(for the Seventh Sunday After Pentecost, July 27, 2014)
‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to 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.’ When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place.
He came to his home town and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?’ And they took offence at him. But Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.’ And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief. (Matthew 13:44-58, NRSV).
Two similar parables kick off our reading. Both are about the ‘kingdom of heaven’ and point to a find of great significance. In each story the one who made the discovery sells ‘all’ to secure this priceless treasure.
Jesus’ third parable reinforces this sentiment. Here, however, the emphasis is not on the joy of discovery, but on the cost of missing heaven’s kingdom: to be thrown ‘…into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’. Here Jesus seems to imply great loss rather than great gain.
Hold these three teachings together and we are confronted with the significance of our response to heaven’s action. The cost of making the kingdom our own is great. The cost of failing to do is also great.
Jesus’ question: ‘Have you understood all this?’ and his parabolic response to their affirmative answer encourages deeper consideration. These comprehending disciples are, firstly, compared to a ‘…scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven…’. Jesus’ stories are making them wise to the things of God. They are becoming his representatives. Second, they are compared to ‘the master of a household’ who seems to have made good and wise decisions in his purchases. Jesus would have his followers see the value of heavenly treasures across the ages. He wants them to invest in both the old and the new.
Clearly, Jesus desires his disciples to link the riches of their ‘Yes’ to the Kingdom of Heaven with the joy and profit in his opening stories. The kingdom he is introducing them to is a timeless treasure indeed!
The final paragraph occurs some time later but still links with the previous teaching. I imagine the disciples looking on in perplexed wonder as their Rabbi is shunned and questioned by his own. They hear Jesus’ assurance that this response is not so unusual while the stories of the cost of the kingdom still echo: ‘Prophets are not without honour except in their own country and in their own house.’
Perhaps it is slowly dawning on them that this kingdom that is worth ‘all’ is also costly for the Christ.