Ninth Sunday After Pentecost – Vicar Schleusener
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The first two parables in our Gospel reading today are probably familiar to all of you. Both the parable of the treasure hidden in the field and the parable of the merchant seeking fine pearls are well known. The two parables are parallel to each other, and point to the same thing. The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a situation in which there is a priceless treasure that a man acquires by selling everything he has to get it.
The popular interpretation is easy to see from the first parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field…” we read, and many conclude from this that Jesus wants us to equate the treasure with the kingdom of heaven. And if the treasure is the kingdom of heaven, then you and I are clearly represented by the man who sells everything in order to buy the field. In this light, the application of the parable is obvious. Are you, the reader or the hearer of the parable, truly selling all that you have in order to obtain the kingdom, or are you holding something back? This question speaks to a full-throttle sort of Christianity in which everything is constantly poured out on the altar of self-sacrifice for the sake of the kingdom, and anything less than constant and complete self-giving is sin and failure.
The weight of Law in this approach is crushing for any conscience that hasn’t been hardened by sin. After all, no one can truthfully say, “My Christianity is always expressing itself at full throttle.” That being the case, Lutheran as you all are, I expect that many of you are beginning to think that perhaps this interpretation of the parable is flawed. And I have good news for you. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re correct. This interpretation is popular. It carries a certain kind of weight that appeals to our natural way of thinking and doing. It’s also completely and diametrically opposed to a right understanding of these two Gospel-filled parables.
The placement of these parables near the end of a long string of parables is not a coincidence. These parables have been placed together to make sure that we understand that we are to interpret these later parables according to the pattern of the earlier ones that Jesus explained Himself. And as we can see throughout this chapter, the kingdom of heaven is being portrayed by the parable as a whole. At no point, however, is it being directly represented by one of the people or objects within the parable. And so it is here. The kingdom of heaven is being portrayed, not personified or objectified. The kingdom is not the treasure, the pearl, the man, or the merchant. Rather, the nature of the kingdom of heaven is being revealed by the interactions between the man and the treasure, and between the merchant and the pearl. Who or what, then, is the treasure and the pearl that are the objects of the attention? Who or what is the man and the merchant who act as the agents in pursuit of these objects?
To answer these questions, we turn again to the context, and we’ll start with the question of who the active agents are. In the parable of the sower, the active agent, the sower, is God. In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, the master of the house who caused the good seed to be planted, and who determined how to handle the false wheat, is once again God. And so it is here as well. God is the man. God is the merchant. When our Lord Jesus took on flesh in the Incarnation, laying aside the fullness of His glory. When He, the Immortal God, willingly went to the cross to suffer and die at the hands and on the behalf of sinners. There, He was selling all that He had so He could buy the field that contained the treasure. So He could buy that most precious of pearls. So He could buy His church, redeeming Her. Redeeming you from sin, “from the house of slavery.”
The treasure that was so covered over with the dirt of sin that none of its beauty or worth could be seen. Buried and incapable of rescuing itself from its sin-covered condition. You. You whose life was once dominated by sin. You who were not holy. You who stood condemned in the eyes of God. For you, the eternal Son of God came and offered all that He had so He might purchase you and make you “His treasured possession.”
And because He has bought you, everything has changed for you. As the apostle Paul puts it, “Who is to condemn [us]? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Dear brothers and sisters, you are no longer subject to condemnation for your sins, for Christ took those sins upon Himself when He sold everything upon the cross to buy you. Nor is there anyone who can separate you from the love of Him who treasures you more than anything else He has. Because of this, you are far more than just a conqueror. Rather, you are one of the beloved, chosen, precious, bought and paid for treasures of the Son of God.
So. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s a God who loves His creation so very dearly. Who treasures His people so very much that He sells all that He has. That He, the Immortal One, puts on mortality so He can undergo suffering and death and thereby purchase “His treasured possession” from bondage to sin. The kingdom of heaven isn’t about people courageously giving their all in pursuit of God, but about God giving all of Himself on behalf of His treasure. You.
And because you are His treasure, the words of the hymn we just sang are true. “From God can nothing move me.” Why is that? The hymn answers, “He will not step aside.” And in keeping with that, the God who will not step aside comes to you today. He serves you with His Word, proclaiming to you the saving truth of what He has done to purchase you. He serves you with the Sacrament of the body and the blood of Him who sold all that He had to redeem you. And as you believe His Word and trust in the promise He gives you in the Sacrament, your sins are forgiven. The glory of the treasure Christ purchased is made visible. The beauty of the pearl Christ bought is seen in heaven. And the peace of God that surpasses all human understanding continues to guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.