44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
A pirate ship docked in the bay as they went from island to island looking for buried treasure. They had a map of the island where the treasure was hidden, but they didn’t know for sure which island was the correct one.
When the crew got off the boat the captain felt a sense of excitement and believed that this stop would prove to be the right one. They followed the instructions – 1400 paces east, 850 paces south – and found themselves under two palm trees that formed an X.
The captain yelled for his crew to start digging under the trees, but he told them that if they dig a hole as deep as their knee that they should stop and move to a different location.
“Stop digging at knee depth?” they asked their captain.
“Aye,” said the captain. “As me mother always said, ‘booty is only shin deep.’”
Today we conclude our accidental four-part sermon series on the parables of Matthew 13. We have heard about how the kingdom of heaven spreads, advances and grows: like a mustard seed, like yeast in friendship bread, like a sower who spreads his seed in places that you wouldn’t expect to find fertile soil. But today we switch a bit from talking about how the kingdom spreads, to how the kingdom is valued.
Suppose I asked you what your most valued possession is. How would you answer? Do you think of your car, your jewelry, or your home theater system? Many of us would answer that our house is our most valued possession. I sure don’t own anything else that would sell on the market for an amount over $100,000. Furthermore, my house has a lot of sweat equity built into it. I’ve made improvements to the house by updating the wiring, painting almost every room, and adding on a small addition. The value of the house is more than just the market value. The house is worth more to me because I know all of the things that I’ve improved, and also the things that I’ve made worse along the way.
But that still isn’t the only reason that my house is so highly valued. We have lived in this house for over six years now. That’s the longest we have lived anywhere as a married couple. We have built more than just a house on Spring Hill Rd, we have built a home. A home filled with memories; a home filled with stories.
Neither of our children have ever lived anywhere other than our current home. When we came home from the hospital with these squirmy, pink, little creatures, we went to our home –OUR HOME – and that phrase took on a different meaning. Our children took their first steps in this home. They got their first “ouchy” in this home. They spoke their first words in this home. They will one day probably lose their first tooth in this home and do their first homework assignment at the dining room table in this home.
I worded that original question in a very intentional way. I asked “what is your most valued possession,” and not “what is your most valuable possession.” They may happen to be the same thing, but they wouldn’t have to be.
If you asked my 2-year-old daughter what her most valued possession is, she would tell you that it is her kola bear pillow. Street value: $5.00. Ask my 4-year-old son and he might mention one of his Hot Wheels cars or a particular tractor. Street value: $3.50. Ask my wife, and she would probably say a photo album with wedding pictures, pictures of our children’s births and birthday parties. Street value: nothing.
Your most valued possession does not have to be your most valuable possession. It may be valued because it has sentimental value. Perhaps it was owned by a favorite relative, or a deceased loved one. There are often memoires and emotions connected to your most valued possession.
To determine your most valued possession, ask yourself this: If my house was on fire and I had the chance to grab one item, what would that item be? Granted, this would be a lot more difficult if your house is your most valued possession.
The first two parables from our scripture for this morning have a similar meaning. The first is of a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field. When he realizes what he has, he buries the treasure right where he found it, goes and sells everything that he has, and buys the field.
In my mind this seems a little bit illogical. Why bury the treasure again, sell all of your things, and then buy the field? Why not just keep the treasure? Then you have the treasure, all of your stuff, and you don’t have to worry about the field.
I think that the reason Jesus adds the part about re-hiding the treasure and buying the field is out of a sense of justice. The phrase “finders, keepers; losers, weepers” is not in the Bible. And contrary to the common saying, possession is not 9/10’s of the law.
If you have a valuable item today you would either lock it in a personal safe or take it to the bank and put it in a safe deposit box. But how many banks are mentioned in the Bible? The banks of the Jordan are the only ones I can think of. With Roman soldiers coming through town all the time, and with the risk of marauding and pillaging, the safest place to keep a valuable item was to bury it in a secret place.
So I think the reason this person bought the land after re-burying the treasure is to give the rightful owner a chance to come forward and claim the treasure. If the owner doesn’t come forward to dig up the treasure when he hears that the land has been sold, the buyer of the land becomes the rightful owner of the treasure.
However, this is only a side note. The real purpose of both of these parables is to reveal the value of this kingdom that Jesus came proclaiming. When these men find the treasure, or the pearl in the second parable, they sell everything they have to acquire this valuable item. And they are happy to do it.
We would be making a mistake if we assumed that Jesus was trying to tell us that the kingdom of heaven has a membership fee that can be purchased with nickels and dimes. The value of the kingdom is more like my daughter’s koala bear pillow, my son’s hot wheels, or my wife’s picture albums. The street value might not be very high, but to the owner they are priceless.
I want to skip quickly over the parable of the drag net, because I think Jesus is simply restating what he said in the parable of the wheat and the weeds, but is now using a metaphor to connect with fishermen rather than farmers. The kingdom of heaven will exist side-by-side with the kingdom of this world. And God will one day do the sorting between the two.
I want to take a quick quiz to make sure all of you Bible scholars are awake and paying attention this morning. Does anyone know what the longest chapter of the Bible is? Psalm 119 is 176 verses long with 22 separate stanzas. Each stanza begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Psalm 119 is actually longer than 14 books in the Hebrew Bible and longer than 17 books of the New Testament.
Psalm 119 is known in the Hebrew tradition by the first line of the chapter, “Ashrei temimei derecho” (happy are those whose way is perfect). It is a song of praise; a prayer of delight for the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Probably the best-known verse in Psalm 119 is verse 105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
I would like to look quickly at the verses that come just before this well-known verse, beginning in verse 97:
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.
Can you imagine someone writing these words today? Oh, how I love your law?! Bad boys like me love laws…love to break them, that is. This is a word that I wish the translators would just leave in the original Hebrew. The word used in verse 97 is Torah. Torah is not just law, like the speed limit and don’t steal. Torah is instruction. It is how the Israelites were to live as God’s chosen people. And it is the very story of how God has been moving in them, through them, and with them since the beginning of time.
The author of Psalm 119 uses some form or synonym of Torah in almost every one of these 176 verses: word, law, statutes, precepts, decrees, commandments. Each one lifts out some aspect of the Torah.
As we look at passages like 119th Psalm, it becomes rather clear that the Torah was more than just “law.” Torah was a way of life, a way of being. The Torah included the story of their calling as a people, God calling Abram to a new place and a new name. Torah was the story of God bringing his people out from captivity, releasing them from slavery in Egypt and delivering them through the wilderness to the Promised Land.
I wondered how much a copy of the Torah might go for on Amazon. You can get an electronic version for kindle for $1.99. The market value for the Torah is less than two dollars. But to an Israelite, the Torah is priceless.
To call the Torah “law” leaves a lot to be desired. Indeed, Torah includes laws and teachings, but Torah was their story. And while there is value to laws and teachings, the most valuable thing about Torah is that it is the story of God and his people, Israel. Like my home, which has a market value, to me, the real value comes from the stories lived and revealed through Torah.
The words of the Psalmist in the 119th Psalm make a lot more sense in this context. “Oh, how I love your Torah! I meditate on it all day long,” remembering God’s story, remembering Israel’s story, remembering our story.
Jesus concludes this symphony of parables with a story that is easy for us to skip over and ignore all together. This parable is entirely contained in verse 52: “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
When I was a young man, probably not yet a teenager, a big act came to our county fair. I, for one, was not about to miss it. I went to the concert for one reason and one reason only. I went to hear Billy Ray Cyrus sing “Achy, Breaky Heart.” That’s right, only a few years earlier, Billy Ray Cyrus had released the song the jumpstarted his career and placed him in the fast lane to stardom.
But one of the reasons a musician goes on tour is they have a new album coming out that they wish to promote. They get you to come to the concert because of their hits, the songs that we already know and love. But while they have your attention, they introduce you to their new work in the hope that you will purchase their new album as well. So when Billy Ray played the county fair, he played “Achy, Breaky Heart” just as expected. But he also played something new; something we have never heard before.
But what can a musical artist do as an encore to follow up a hit like “Achy, Breaky Heart?” Billy Ray let us all down. He should have stopped with “Achy, Breaky Heart.”
This may surprise you, but there are a few differences between Jesus and Billy Ray Cyrus. The final parable in Matthew 13 tells of the owner of a house who puts on display the beautiful things in his possession for all to see. There is the old treasure, that which has been in his possession for some time. But there is also something new.
In this parable, Jesus says that the teachers of the law who have become his disciples are this homeowner putting treasures on display. Side-by-side, these Jewish leaders are displaying their collection, treasures of old and new. The Hebrew tradition and this new kingdom of heaven that Jesus is proclaiming set side-by-side.
Jesus is affirming the value that the Jewish people place on the Torah. The Torah was and is the story of God moving in their midst, God’s protective guidance through thousands of years. You can’t put a price tag on that treasure. But there is something new, and it too has a value for which numbers cannot do justice. Where the Torah is the story of how God has moved among, with, and through his people in the past, the kingdom of heaven will be the story of how God moves among, with, and through his people from now forward.