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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - 07/30/2017

Two weeks ago we had the Parable of Sower, last week the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds, this week five short parables, the mustard seed, yeast measured and mixed, treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great value and a net thrown into the sea.  They’re all classified as “kingdom” parables with all of them except the Parable of the Sower beginning with, “The kingdom of heaven is like….”

 At the end of it all, Jesus asked the crowd, “Have you understood all this?” and they answered, “Yes!” and you want Jesus to say, “No you don’t.  Two thousand years from now people are still going to be trying to figure out these parables and you think you understand them?  I don’t think so.”  He’s too nice to say that though, so instead he drops another riddle on them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”  Having finished these parables, Jesus left that place, perhaps smiling and saying to himself, “Let ‘em chew on that for awhile.”

Or maybe not.  Parables are by nature open ended, meant to make you think, meant to lead you to truth that can only be conveyed in images and stories.  The intent though, isn’t to mystify everyone.  The same parable can mean different things to different people, that’s true; the meaning can be in the hands of the hearer or reader as much as in the hands of the author, but again, the intent isn’t to confuse.  Two thousand years later we are still analyzing Jesus’ parables but it could be that they’re not as complicated as we sometimes want to make them.

What you have to remember, is that Jesus doesn’t present these parables in a vacuum; there is a context that inspires them.  In the preceding chapters Jesus had talked about the call to discipleship and he didn’t make it sound easy as he cautioned about rejection and persecution, leaving everything behind, your job, your family and your possessions, taking up your cross and following, setting family members one against the other.   With all the cautions though, there is still the call to bear good fruit.  That’s the context that leads into the parables of chapter 13, so the questions hanging out there are, how do you do it?  Where does one get the strength for this kind of discipleship?  Is it worth it to live this way as a follower of Jesus?

All of the parables from this chapter address these questions in some fashion, but I want to focus on the double parable of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great value.  One of the techniques Jesus used in teaching was this one of doubling sayings or using parallel sayings in order to emphasize a point.  He probably learned it from sources like the Psalms and Proverbs where it’s frequently used and so he adapted it in his own teaching.

In these two little parables about the treasure and the pearl, the parallel structure is quite obvious: someone comes across something extremely valuable and gives up everything in order to acquire it.  With this doubling technique though, besides parallelism that reveals similarities, there is often contrast and that too is the case here.  The first character is a day laborer who has to work in a field that doesn’t belong to him. The other individual comes from the other end of the social ladder, a merchant who you suspect has all kinds of business connections, a person of means in other words, as opposed to someone who doesn’t have much.  Another contrast that is perhaps even more noteworthy, is the fact that the day laborer comes across his treasure by accident, while the merchant was actively searching for precious pearls. 

Based on these contrasts, we could say that part of what Jesus is saying is that the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven as it’s called in Matthew, is available to everyone, rich and poor, and that it might be encountered in surprising, unexpected, unintentional ways like the buried treasure, or as something that has been long and actively sought after, like the precious pearl.

That’s helpful, I think.  It’s inclusive, opening the kingdom to the rich and the poor and also opening the kingdom not just to seekers, not just to those actively involved in what we might call a traditional faith journey, but also to those who might just stumble across it.  That could be interpreted as hope for those we worry about who we wish were in church but they aren’t.  Based on these parables, their absence doesn’t preclude them from finding the kingdom because, to their surprise, the kingdom might find them.

Both of these parables begin with, “The kingdom of heaven is like…,” but none of this interpretation as yet says anything about what the kingdom of heaven is.  It’s important to say though that Jesus is talking about the here and now when he talks about the kingdom.  There may be a hereafter component to it as well, but Jesus is mostly talking about the kingdom as a dimension of life as it’s lived here. 

Either way though, when interpreting these two parables it’s tempting to want to essentially make them object lessons and say that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field or it’s like a pearl of great value, just focusing on that one thing.  According to people who know more Greek than I do, that’s a bad approach because that’s not what the text says.  The comparison that is being made is with the entire event.  In the case of the treasure, it’s finding it, hiding it, selling everything and buying the field.  In the case of the pearl, it’s about searching for it, finding it, selling everything and buying the pearl.  It’s about the whole event, not about a single crucial point. 

Not that there aren’t crucial points to be identified, points like the enormous value of what is found, both characters acting decisively to a unique opportunity, the willingness to sell everything; they’re all points worthy of consideration.  Taken collectively though, what these points describe is a journey;  it’s the kingdom being as much about the journey as it is the destination and…it’s a journey that results in great joy.

If there is a single crucial point to consider here it perhaps is the great joy of the laborer in the field, great joy that can certainly be read into the experience of the merchant and the pearl, the great joy that encompasses the whole event.  In his instruction to his disciples in the previous chapters, the other points I mentioned had already been identified; the value of what they were doing, the need to act and the willingness to leave everything behind.  Jesus had talked about all that.  To convey the joy inherent in discipleship though, it took a story!  Further instruction wasn’t going to make that point; it took a story.

In all of these “The kingdom of heaven is like…” parables, what is described is something that causes joy and I think that’s a good place for us to settle today.  These little stories are reflective of journeys, experiences that, for lack of a better way to put it, have a happy ending, often with a degree of surprise or unexpectedness.  None of them says exactly what the kingdom of heaven is, but that’s what it’s like, a journey that brings great joy.

In the news lately there’s been quite a bit about the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit riots.  If you’re a kid from New England though, this summer is the 50th anniversary of the Impossible Dream Red Sox.  In 1966 the Red Sox came in ninth place out of ten in the American League, about where they finished pretty much every year when I was growing up and they weren’t expected to do any better in 1967.  But, to everyone’s surprise, they did and I can tell you, it was magical as they managed to win games in improbable fashion and stay close to the league leaders all summer into the early fall.  All of a sudden, everyone was a fan.

Going into the last weekend of the season there were four teams, the Red Sox, Tigers, Twins and White Sox within a game and half of each other, any of them could have wound up on top.  On the last day of the season though, the Red Sox won the pennant as they beat the Twins and the Tigers lost the second game of a doubleheader to the Angels, some of you Tiger fans might remember, and this back in the day when there were no playoffs and wild cards, just two teams in the World Series, everyone else went home.  The Red Sox lost the World Series in seven games to the Cardinals, but no one cared.  In the end, it was about the journey to get there. 

For me, and for a lot of other people, I think that was a “The kingdom of heaven is like…” experience.  The Red Sox did finally win a World Series in 2004 after an 86 year drought and they’ve won a couple more since and they will win more, but I think most people who were around would tell you that none of it has topped the magic and the joy of the 1967 Impossible Dream team. 

He put before them another parable:  the kingdom of heaven is like a downtrodden baseball team that came out of nowhere to win the pennant on the last day of the season, and with great joy, people from six states celebrated.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
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