Matthew 13:44-52 (Pentecost 9A)
St. John, Galveston 7/30/2023
Rev. Alan Taylor

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s good to be back with you today, although it’s not so good to be back in this heat. Dawn and I enjoyed our time off in Upstate New York last week, where we enjoyed some good wine, good food and good friends. Oh, and it was in the mid to upper 70’s for daytime highs and down into the low 60’s at night. Of course, that area of New York also averages about 110 inches of snow each winter. Anyway, it’s good to be home.

The message this morning is based on the Gospel reading from Matthew 13. Not surprisingly, the section includes a few more parables of Jesus. I say that because virtually all of chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel, which we have been in for several weeks now, is made up of parables. Today we have the parable of the hidden treasure and of the pearl of great price.

The New Testament often deals with the subject of treasure and the use of treasure in our day to day lives. A central passage in that regard is found in Matthew 6, where Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” There’s temporal treasure, which decays and is stolen, and there’s eternal treasure, which endures forever. The treasure that endures forever is, of course, Jesus and His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. Where your treasure is (Jesus says), be it temporal or eternal, “there will your heart be also.”

Two of the parables in the Gospel reading for this morning also deal with the subject of treasure. The first one is about an unidentified treasure, which a man found and hid in a field, until such time as he had the resources to buy the field. The second is about a merchant who found a pearl of such great value that he went and sold everything he had in order to buy it.

For centuries, these two parables have been understood in the Church almost exclusively as discipleship parables. Perhaps Jesus’ words from Matthew 6, about laying up treasure in heaven, had a great deal of influence on the Church’s interpretation of these two stories, for in Matthew 6 Jesus talks about the proper stewardship of our treasures.

At any rate, as discipleship parables, the treasure in the first parable and the pearl of great value in the second, represent the Gospel, or God, or Jesus. The one who finds the treasure, and gives up everything he has to possess it, is the disciple, you and me. The point being, the Gospel is a treasure in and of itself. In fact, it is recognized as of such tremendous value, that, on finding it, we are willing to give up everything we have in order to possess it, to make it our own, as it were.

As I see it, as discipleship parables, these two stories are harshly condemning. After all, as Jesus’ disciples, have we, have you, in fact, seen the value in the Gospel, in Jesus Himself, such that you have given up everything you have for the sheer pleasure of possessing Him and all that He gives you? To put it a little more concisely, have you forsaken everything to follow Jesus?  Or, perhaps more to the point, is there anything that you have that, if you gave it up, it would be sufficient to merit God’s grace and forgiveness, such that in giving it up, you might possess God and His grace?

Over the last 150 years or so, some New Testament scholars have made a very sound argument that these two parables are actually not discipleship parables at all. Rather, they are of a larger group of parables known as “reign” parables. In other words, they are parables about the coming reign of Jesus and the kingdom of God into the world. In all of the parables that deal with the reign of God, God or Jesus is the central figure. That being the case, these two parables before us this morning really should be understood Christologically, that is, with Christ at the center.

By this time in the life and ministry of Jesus, the disciples were already beginning to face adversity and persecution for their faith. The Jews saw them as deniers of the true God, even as polytheists, having multiple gods, because their faith was trinitarian, which means they believed in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Romans, on the other hand, saw them as atheists because they refused to believe in and to pay homage to the gods of Rome. No doubt, many of the disciples were beginning to wonder if their faith was worth the suffering that they were enduring for believing in Jesus, in His forgiveness and grace.

Whether the early disciples, or us, discouragement is a powerful force and a favored tool in the devil’s arsenal. The goal of discouragement, at least from the devil’s perspective, is doubt and ultimately unbelief. The central target is God’s Word and whether or not it can be believed. “Has God said,” the serpent asked Adam? Can you really believe what God says? Your suffering, especially for your faith, would indicate that God really doesn’t care about you after all. Why, if He did, He would rescue you, He would deliver you. Right? Again, discouragement is a powerful force and a favored tool in the devil’s arsenal.

In a context in which opposition was rising and discouragement was close at hand for His disciples, Jesus told them these two little parables about treasure. Remember, these are “reign” parables, which means they are about what Jesus was doing in restoring God’s reign in Israel and in the world.  As such, Jesus is the man in the first parable and He is the merchant in the second. In both cases, it is Jesus who found an object of great value and went and sold all that he possessed in order to purchase that valued object and to make it his own.

The object of God’s desire and affection is his disciples, which, of course, includes you and me. You are to Him as a treasure and an exceedingly valuable pearl. You do not, therefore, need to fear that you will be overwhelmed or taken from Him by any of the various forces arrayed against you. He has made you His own. As the Scriptures assure you elsewhere, “you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”

The man in the first parable, and the merchant in the second,  did whatever it took in order to possess what he valued so highly, even to the point of selling everything he had. So has Jesus done what needed to be done to possess his holy Christian church on earth today. As Luther so aptly reminds us in explaining the second article of the Apostle’s Creed, Jesus, “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.”

And so, though you, His disciple, may often feel buried under the challenges and dangers presented by your own sinful flesh, by the hostile world around you, and by the devil himself, the great enemy and father of lies, there need be no doubt that you belong to Jesus and that He highly values you. You have been acquired, you see. Christ has purchased you at the price of everything that he had. And so, in the breathtaking reckoning of grace, and at the center of the Gospel itself, is this, you are as a treasure to God, a pearl of great value.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +