– July 30, 2017 – Matthew 13:44-52
Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come,
Jesus’ parables get us to think about God and our relationship with him. They keep us awake and encourage us to look for insights we haven’t had before in words that may be familiar to us.
Depending on how you count, this morning’s reading from Matthew contains four or five parables about the kingdom of Heaven. We’ll talk about some of them. First, a few general comments. The kingdom of Heaven means Jesus himself, for the blessings of the kingdom come through faith in him. These blessings begin with the forgiveness of our sins, peace with God, the conviction that we’re righteous in his sight, and the hope of rest in eternity. All citizens of the kingdom, which means you and me, receive these benefits. They come through Jesus. He is the king.
The kingdom is separate from the world. We can’t touch it and we can’t see it, because God is spirit. We cannot measure his love and his mercy. Only believers like you and me, God’s people, sense the presence and the power of the kingdom. We find the truth about the kingdom in the Bible and the sacraments. That’s why Jesus calls the kingdom hidden or buried treasure. A story from history illustrates this point. Centuries ago, the ancient Roman empire became so weak that less civilized people from northern Europe were able to move in and take over the empire by force. Christians who lived near Rome were crushed or depressed. They believed that not only was the order of the Roman empire destroyed but also the kingdom of God. They would have told us that God’s kingdom was tied to earthly peace and harmony and earthly greatness. But a profound Christian thinker from North Africa argued that the kingdom of heaven is spiritual. It concerns our hearts and our souls. God and not emperors builds his kingdom and nothing can destroy it because it is separate from the world and hidden. The joy of hope, the comfort of forgiveness, and the satisfactions of peace with God will always be available to believers, because they are safely hidden from God’s enemies and earthly decay. We take hold of them by the hand of faith.
Jesus also compares the kingdom of heaven with the most valuable pearl imaginable. Life brings us many pearls – art, music, sports, friendship, family life, the opportunity to work for justice, and so on. Jesus doesn’t deny that these are pearls nor does he take them away from us. He simply wants us to trust that his kingdom is the greatest pearl of all. His love, his pardon and peace, and his friendship are the most valuable things we have – even more valuable than we imagine. As our Lord says in the first commandment, we are to have no other gods before him. He is number one for us. We strive to love and serve him. He is the most valuable pearl, the one we are called to give everything to obtain.
As well, Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to an enormous net that fishermen let down into the sea to collect all kinds of fish. The net is the church. It has all kinds of members. No believer is an outsider or second class or a stranger to God. Of course, some members of the kingdom have a stronger faith than others and judgment will take place one day, but this judgment belongs to God, not other humans. His grace and mercy are available to everyone. All people have a chance to grow and flourish in his kingdom, so Jesus compares it with a wide and ample dragnet.
Yeast, a mustard seed, buried treasure, a pearl, a fishnet – Jesus uses everyday pictures to describe his kingdom. He brings the kingdom right into our daily lives so that we may approach him and feel comfortable with him. He compares his kingdom with things most people want so that we’ll come to want him most of all and put everything else in second or third or fourth place for his sake.
Now, the first three parables in this morning’s gospel all have one thing in common. They describe people at the beginning of their walk with God, full of enthusiasm, direction, and a spirit of sacrifice, but a question comes to mind. What will the man who bought the field do with his buried treasure? Will the man who sold everything to buy the pearl put it to good use or will it sit on his shelf in a glass case? Will the fish in the net be useful kingdom-fish or will they just flop around waiting to be brought to shore?
Jesus does not want this to happen. He wants enthusiasm to continue and knowledge to grow and widen into wisdom. He accomplishes his purpose by using two methods. The first is a warning. People who move away from his love, mercy, and forgiveness will be cast into a burning fiery furnace. Folks who reject the benefits of the crucifixion and the resurrection and the kingdom that grows out of them will be rejected themselves. This stands to reason. If we fail to see the worth of something, it won’t be available to us anymore. So Jesus issues a warning.
His second method of winning loyalty to the kingdom is different. He expresses it in another parable. He says that a person who has received instruction in the kingdom is like the master of a household, or in some translations, the owner of a house. Citizens of the kingdom aren’t tourists or wayfarers or aliens before God. We are owners. We have privileges and responsibilities. Nobody owns forgiveness or mercy, of course, for these are spiritual qualities. What Jesus means is that his people have a secure place in the kingdom that nobody can take away from us. God doesn’t waver in the high esteem in which he holds his people and the delight he takes in us. We may not own a business or property or even have enough money to buy a pearl, but our place in the kingdom is certain. “In my father’s house are many mansions,” Jesus says and one of those spiritual mansions belongs to us. No landlord may evict us. No one can force us out. By God’s grace, we have a clear title to our place in the kingdom.
The fact that we own a piece of the kingdom makes us responsible. People who own property, even if it’s only an automobile, like to see that it’s well-kept, put to good use, and available for the benefit of others. This works for kingdom principles, too. Since we are grateful for God’s forgiveness, we hold onto it and the confidence it gives us. We don’t squander God’s grace by acting foolishly or otherwise tempting God. We’re prudent and sensible about our relationship with God, just like people who own property. Moreover, we like to see the kingdom qualities God has given us at work in the lives of others. As we are forgiven, so do we eagerly forgive others and so God’s kingdom spreads.
Many Christian people are good at reaching out to others. We absorb what today’s parables tell us about keeping priorities straight and then putting Christian guidelines to work for the benefit of others. Despite great temptations to stray from God, Lutheran people stick with the kingdom, not because we fear God’s punishment, but because by God’s grace we know the value of the pearl of great price and the treasure buried in a field, hidden from general view.
Each of us has experienced enthusiasm for our lives with God. We have willingly sacrificed earthly comforts for Jesus' sake. The purpose of the parables for us today is to rekindle our enthusiasm. Our Lord’s stories about people devoted to him with mind heart and will suggest to us that our times of greatest commitment to him are not in the past but in the future. He provides the ground of enthusiasm for us. Our part is to stay tuned, so to speak, to his station. As part owners of the kingdom, we listen faithfully to his word knowing that in him we have found a treasure beyond price. In Jesus’ Name we rejoice. AMEN. The peace of God…