Gospel Analysis: Mustard Seed, Priceless Pearl
PENTECOST 10A Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Grace Lutheran Churc
Des Moines, Washington 98198
The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.
Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 118-121.
#126. THE PARABLE OF THE SEED GROWING SECRETLY Mark 4:26-29
Notice that this parable is found only in Mark. Matthew and Luke, who have copies of Mark’s gospel before them, do not include this parable in their versions. Perhaps they do not include this parable because the parable of the mustard seed will occur shortly, and the parable of the seed growing secretly is quite similar to the parable of the mustard seed.
-He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground and would sleep and rise night and day, Circle the words, “kingdom of God,” and write near them, “the central theme of Jesus’ teaching.” Circle the word, “seed,” and write “the Word of God.”
Do not equate the kingdom of God with the church. It is easy to slip into that thought pattern unknowingly. These are all “kingdom” parables; they are not “church” parables. This parable (and the other parables) is about the growth of God’s reign on the earth.
-And the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. This parable is about the power intrinsic within the seed, the power inherently within the Word of God.Centuries ago, you may assume that farmers from a farming generation would understand how seeds grow, but they did not. It was all a miracle. Even today, when farmers plants seeds and seed grows, it is still a miracle. So it is with the kingdom of God, the reign of God in our lives: we cannot explain its growth because it is in the power of the seed.
The previous parable demonstrated the importance of the quality of the soil; this parable demonstrates the power of the seed itself. Both the soils and the seed are enormously important for the seed to grow, flourish and produce much fruit.
-The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. A person can easily imagine a seed going through the process, from the beginning seed to the ending harvest.
Focus on the two words, “of itself.” That is the Greek word “automatos,” from which we get our English word, “automatically.” But do you realize where that Greek word, “automatos” is placed in the sentence? At the very beginning of the sentence. For emphasis, the author puts it at the beginning of the sentence. Automatically the seed grows. Automatically, the earth produces. Automatically, the Bible produces. Automatically, the Word gets inside of us. There is something inside the word that changes us. It is Jesus inside the Word that gets through to us. Jesus grows in you, just as seeds grow mysteriously and miraculously.
Now, that does not mean that automatically you are going to be a Christian. That does not mean that automatically you are going to grow to be a large church. That does not mean that automatically you give your life to Christ. But what it does mean is that there is power in this word. As you pick up the Bible and hold it in your hands, you realize that this Word is not passive. I keenly understand it. There is something in here. If you daily meditate on this word, it grows in you. That is what Jesus was talking about in this first story.
One of the classic interpretations of this Biblical passage about the seed growing automatically (Mark 4:26) was written by Martin Luther when he said about this text: “After I preach my sermon on Sunday, when I return home, I drink my little glass of Wittenberg beer and I just let the gospel run its course.” I like that. Luther said that after he pounded on the pulpit and expounded the gospel, he would go home and pull out the Sunday newspaper, and pull out his glass of warm Wittenberg beer and start to drink it and enjoy the afternoon. Luther knew that the power of his sermon was not based on the power of his theological acuity. He knew that the power of his sermon was not based on his eloquence or his abilities. He knew that the power of the sermon would have no effect whatsoever unless the very Word of God got into a person’s heart. Luther knew that he couldn’t do that. It was the Holy Spirit who did that. Luther keenly understood the power of the Word.
-But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
This parable about the seed growing automatically is a parable of hope. Jesus is saying that the kingdom (God’s rule over the demonic, God’s rule over evil in our lives, God’s rule over the evil in our civilization) is growing and will continue to grow, night and day, year in and year out, century in and century out, through thick and thin, his kingly rule is going to grow.
Focus on the reign of God and God’s increasing reign on this earth. I personally believe that the reign of God is when God rules over everything to do with the human race e.g. our intelligence, language, technology, medicine, quality of life, governance of life. Good homes, good family, good jobs, good education, good science, good medicines, good government: these are all signs of the reign of God. Martin Luther called them the “masks of God.” The Presence of God is living behind these masks of good homes, good families, good schools, good hospitals, good jobs, good government. The Presence of God is found in human civilization, and when our civilization is filled with justice, goodness and peace, we know that this civilization is God’s pleasing.
Recorded human history seems to be about 5,000 years old; the human race seems to be about 100,000 years old. It seems that the human race began with living in caves, carving on the walls of caves, and living a primitive community life. Over the past several thousand years, human civilization has developed and grown. Make a hypothetical choice: “Would you like living in the era of primitive history when human beings were writing on walls in caves or would you like living on this earth today in a civilized society with good homes, good schools, good churches, good jobs, good medicine, good government?” Could this all be part of the story of the growing reign of God within human civilization and within human history?
#128. THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-19
Remember that only two of the parables of Jesus offered an explanation of those parables. The rest of the thirty-eight parables offer no explanation and a listener has to ponder the parable and attempt to decipher the meaning and the message for one’s life.
Notice that Luke has a different location for this parable and the next parable.
-He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? Highlight. This is another kingdom parable, telling us about the reign of God.
-It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." The message and meaning of the parable is this: There is an incredible growth of God’s reign in the world. We can talk about the incredible growth of God’s reign in a person’s life, in our own lives. The focus of the parable is growth, explosive growth, enormous growth. Each parable has a unique contribution to make to our understanding of the reign of God, and this parable focuses on the incredible growth that is part of the reign of God.
Many scholars apply this parable to the church. That is, the church grew from one person Jesus to the twelve disciples. Today, the church numbers in the billions of people who claim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
This parable is about the kingdom and the phenomenal growth of the rule of God in this world.
One interesting interpretation and application of this parable is that the seed of democracy was planted in the Magna Carta in 1215. The Magna Carta was the first time in literature that a restraint was placed on the king. As we recall, Archbishop Stephen Langton was the person who helped author the Magna Carta and was also the scholar who first put “chapters” into the Bible. The point is, the concept of democracy has grown enormously during these past eight hundred years, and is now the finest possibility for political governance. The number of democratic nations has also expanded during these past eight hundred years.
FROM A SERMON, THE MUSTARD SEED
“It is with these stories that we approach the parables of Jesus for today. Whenever Jesus preached a sermon, he always told a parable. The Bible tells us that Jesus never preached a sermon without telling a parable. Jesus was the master storyteller. He wasn’t like those Pharisees in the New Testament. The Pharisees quoted from the Old Testament all the time. The Pharisees were super religious people who quoted from the Bible continually so they could sound religious. People were bored to death when the Pharisees quoted the Bible like that. But Jesus almost never quoted from his Bible which was the Old Testament. Nor did Jesus ever quote from Greek philosophy, from Socrates, Plato, or Demosthenes. No. What Jesus quoted from were common and ordinary stories of life. These were the kinds of stories from everyday life. These stories from everyday life were naturally told and easily understood. Jesus forever told a story.
He said, “The kingdom of God is like this. The way of God is like this. It is like this farmer and this farmer went out and planted a seed in the ground. The farmer came back night and day and night and day and night and day, and WOW. Look at that little plant that is showing through the dirt. The seed grew up automatically. The earth produced of itself automatically.
“Whoever has ears to hear let him understand the riddles of the kingdom of God.”
Jesus said, “In case you didn’t get it, I will tell you another story, another riddle, which is similar to the first one. The way of God is like this. This is the way that God works. It is like a person who takes a mustard seed. It is the smallest of seeds and you plant it in the ground and it grows up to fourteen feet tall. It is the tallest bush in all of Israel.”
And Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear the riddles about the kingdom of God.” Now, at that point, Jesus would finish his sermon. He would just tell the story and you would go home and figure it out. So technically, I should just quit my sermon right now and that probably would please many of you. But pastors are paid to preach, and so unlike Jesus, I am going to explain what Jesus was saying. But Jesus himself would not have explained the parables.
In the first story for today, we may recall that the seed stands for the Word of God. It stands for the Bible. It stands for the words and stories of Jesus. It stands for Jesus Christ himself. The Bible passage for today is saying that the Scriptures, the Bible, the Word, the parables of Jesus have a hidden mysterious power inside of them to grow. Just as the body heals itself such as when we break an arm, we know that the broken bones of the arm heal. Why? Why do the bones heal? Because there is some mysterious power within the bone. So the bone heals itself. Or just like you plant a seed into the ground, it grows. Why? Why does it grow? I don’t know. It is because of some power within the seed that miraculously grows. So also we say that the Bible, the Word of God, Jesus is planted in our hearts and it grows. You plant the Word in our hearts and there is something about that Bible, Jesus, the living Word that grows within us.
Let’s take a minute and look at this large Bible on the altar. This Bible is the center of our worship service. When you come into the sanctuary and look up the central aisle to the altar/communion table, you could see this large Bible placed at the center of the altar. I remember when this sanctuary was being remodeled, there was discussion about whether or not this congregation should get rid of this big, symbolic Bible that was placed in the middle of the altar. Instead of the Bible symbolically located on the center of the altar, many Lutheran churches have a book of liturgies in the center of the table. But when this sanctuary was remodeled, the people said that they did not want a book of liturgies at the center of the focus of our worship but the Bible. The people on the planning committee said we want the old big Bible to be on the table. The sanctuary is designed in such a way that when you enter the worship space, the first and most prominent item that you see here is the Bible. It is our belief that there is something inside this Bible which has the mysterious power to grow. What is inside this Bible is the very presence of Christ himself. It is the love of God. There is something inside this Bible when it is planted into a person’s heart that the love of Christ begins to grow.
Just as there is power in the bones to heal and power in a seed to grow, so there is also a mysterious power inside this book to grow as well. And so at our church, we try to do everything humanly possible to have people daily meditate on the Word of God and weekly come and hear a meditation based on the Word of God. That is at the very heart of who we are.
In our confirmation program here at church, we have our students read a short passage of Scripture each night if they do their work. This nightly reading is at the heart of our confirmation program here at Grace.
We have adults, many of whom are going to be baptized today, who attended my adult inquiry class. I did everything I could to persuade new members who are joining our church today to daily meditate on the Bible, every morning or every night.
Throughout our whole parish and throughout our whole worship service, we know that there is a power inside of that book. And that power inside that book is Jesus Christ. The power inside that book is the very presence of God. That is what this story for today is all about.
Now, some Christians just can’t figure out why there faith is not so strong. They cannot figure out why their Christian faith is so weak, so anemic and so colorless. They cannot figure out why nothing is happening in their Christian life. So often this is because they are no longer meditating on the Word of God.
Perhaps you are a person who knows only a few Bible verses by memory. Perhaps you know the famous Bible verse of John 3:16 or the shortest Bible verse of “Jesus wept.” Perhaps you don’t know your Bible too well and instead you know only a broad generalized Christian philosophy of life.
But to be honest, to be really honest, you don’t daily meditate on the Word of God. You don’t consistently and weekly nourish your life in worship that is based on the Word of God. Then you ask, “Why is my faith so shallow? Why am I not close to God? Why am I falling away from God? Why am I spiritually depressed? God, what is wrong with my spiritual life?” Chances are, in all probability, you are no longer nourishing yourself on that Word of God. For when you nourish yourself on that Word of God, you take Jesus into your soul and Jesus grows through the Word.
But Jesus also told a second story that is part of today’s gospel lesson. Didn’t Jesus tell a parable about a mustard seed which started small but then grew absolutely large and tall? Let’s talk about that mustard seed. It is one thing to say that the kingdom of God is like this: you plant it like a seed into the ground and it grows automatically. But it another thing to say that you plant a seed into the ground and it grows really large. So the point of the first parable is that you plant the seed of God into the ground and it grows. The point of the second parable is that the seed grows really large. I mean it grows fourteen feet tall. So let’s talk about this second parable.
How many people are Christians this year around the earth? 1.6 billion. We are by far the world’s largest religion. Who would have guessed that two thousand years ago, when Jesus’ body was planted into the ground, his body would rise up out of the ground and his resurrected body would grow taller and taller to 1.6 billion people tall? Who would have guessed that two thousand years ago when nature planted that little acorn in the ground that it would grow to be a giant sequoia? And who would have guessed that when the body of Jesus was planted into the ground and after three days he would rise from the dead and he would grow so large? 1.6 billion people large. Who would have guessed? You see, there is something about this kingdom; there is something about Jesus which not only grows but grows enormously large.
Let me give you another illustration where this seed has grown so large. I would like to suggest to you that many of the values of Western civilization are rooted in Jesus and the Scriptures. I want to ask you a question. Where did our concept of democracy come from? Most people say off the top of their heads, that it came from Greece and the Greek senate. Yes, but not totally. Where did our concept of democracy originate? From the Magna Carta. It came from the Magna Carta and England in the year 1215. Who was one of the primary authors of the original Magna Carta? Stephen Langdon. Who was Stephen Langdon? The Archbishop of Canterbury. Archbishop Stephen Langdon was one of the principal authors of the Magna Carta and he had his roots in the Bible, his roots in the Word, his roots in the Book of Galatians and his roots in the freedom described in the Book of Galatians. The book of Galatians is about freedom, Christian freedom which has implications for political freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free.”
Another question: Where did our Constitution come from? We all know: Thomas Jefferson. Where did he get his ideas? The French Enlightenment. Where did the French Enlightenment get its ideas? The Renaissance. Where did the Renaissance get its ideas? The Reformation. Where did the Reformation get its ideas? From the Bible.
I would like to suggest to you that for many people including myself, that the ideals of democracy can be traced back through history to the Scriptures themselves.
Originally, the hospitals in America were primarily Christian hospitals. All the colleges in America were originally Christian colleges. The freedom movement in America for blacks had its origin in the Scriptures.
I am suggesting to you this morning that the very values of our democracy are rooted in the Scriptures. Who would have guessed that these American ideas and ideals would have started as a small seed so many centuries ago?
I would like to give one more set of illustrations. This small seed not only grew to 1.6 billion people. This small seed not only inspired many of the values of Western civilization. But this small seed also grows in people, in individuals, so that people like you and me have a faith that is fourteen feet tall. There are people who have become giants of faith. I would like to tell you three stories that are fresh in my heart.
The nature of my sermons are such that they are like a diary. When I prepare a sermon, I read the Biblical commentaries about a text, but I also read my old sermons. The following is a story from twelve years ago. Twelve years ago this week, I made a visit to an old man to prepare his funeral. His name of Alfred Lunde, the ninety-two year old Norwegian patriarch of our parish. Alfred Lunde was one of those giants of faith. He was one of those people who had migrated from the dust bowls in North Dakota and come out West to Washington. I’ve never known a man as smart and wise as old Alfred Lunde. What a faith that man had. One afternoon, twelve years ago, as we prepared his funeral, Old Man Lunde said to me. “Tell them this at my funeral. Tell the folks that everything I have is garbage. Tell the folks that everything I have is garbage compared to having Jesus Christ. Markquart, write that down and tell it at my funeral.” And he went on to say, “And tell them that this world does not belong to us, that this world belongs to God. We are to improve the earth and not to destroy it. You are to leave nothing behind. It is tragic not to leave the world a better place. So many people celebrate life and they leave nothing behind to improve this world. I have lived and I have improved the world. Tell them that, at my funeral, Markquart.” He had a faith fourteen feet tall. This old Norwegian farmer turned janitor had a faith that was fourteen feet tall, and anybody who knew Alfred Lunde knew that.
So it was six years ago that I was preparing a sermon on this text. It was Friday. Friday, six years ago, was one of the most difficult days of my life. It was the funeral for Patti Arnold. Patti Arnold, thirty-nine years old. Patti Arnold, cancer. Patti Arnold, bone transplant. Patti Arnold, the Italian. Here maiden name was Colello and she was Italian, pure Italian. Her family owned an Italian grocery story. Her family was Italian Catholic. She was the most fireball woman I had ever met in my life. Never in the history of this congregation have we ever had a funeral like this. The people who came to that funeral were sitting in the parking lot, way out to the road. Why? Why were there so many people? Why? There was no one who had loved the way Patti had. Patti had loved the world so vigorously. In that sermon for her funeral, I told about how Patti had loved people, not only when she lived but when she was dying. I told stories about when Patti was up at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Treatment center and the way that she cared for people around her at Fred Hutch. While she was dying. It was absolutely incredible. Her faith was fourteen feet tall. To this day, her life still inspires me.
The years passed. And I look at the most recent funeral here at Grace Lutheran Church. It was for Ellen Heffner. Ellen Heffner, of all people. This giant of a woman who at the age of seventy-seven lead our homeless ministry. She said of herself in her poetic musings, “God, why is it that you have created me in such a way that my heart always goes for the underdog? Why is it when the little boy in my first grade class at school wet his pants and everybody else made fun of him, why is it that I could not? Why did I have to go and protect him? God, why have you made my heart this way that I always go for the underdog? God, is that a curse or a blessing on my life?” The answer? It was both. It was a curse because it took so much out of Ellen, but it was a blessing because she helped so many people. A week ago, when the homeless men and women had a memorial service for her in downtown Seattle and all the homeless men were gathered in a park, their lives had been deeply and physically blessed by the generosity of Ellen Heffner. Why. Because Ellen’s faith was fourteen feet tall. Ellen’s life? She still inspires many of us.
Now, the purpose of this last point of the sermon is not to talk about the virtues of Old Man Lunde, the Norwegian farmer. Nor about the blessings of Patti Arnold, the Italian hairdresser. Nor about the social compassion of Ellen Heffner, the German school teacher. No. This sermon is about the Word. It is about the seed. You see, the key to these peoples’ lives was that a seed had been planted inside of them and it grew and it grew and it grew to enormous proportions. That is what this sermon is about. It is about the power of the seed. When Jesus Christ is planted in your life, when his word is planted in your heart, a miracle may occur. Because the power is within the seed. And over time, the seed grows and grows and grows and you finally exclaim, “It is over fourteen feet tall.” That is what you want to have happen in your life. That is what I want to happen in my life.
One time, Jesus was gathered with his disciples and he said, “I have to tell you about the kingdom of God. The way of God is like this. “There was a farmer who took a seed and planted it in the ground. He wanted it night and day and night and day and night and day, and the seed produced automatically by itself. Get it? I’ll tell you another story. There once was a farmer who planted a mustard seed. It is the smallest of all seeds. He planted it in the ground and it grew up to fourteen feet tall. And the birds of the air came and made their nests and they found shelter from the storm. He who has ears to hear, let him hear the riddles of the kingdom of God.” Amen.
#129. THE PARABLE OF THE LEAVEN
Notice the parallels within this parable. The wording is almost identical. The wording is parallel in both Matthew and Luke’s account of the parable. In the past, when Matthew and Luke are parallel and there are no other parallels, we reach the conclusion that the two authors were copying from a common source, Q.
The parable of the mustard seed belongs with the next parable about the leaven. “These two parables are parallel in structure. Both begin with the introductory question by Jesus. Both contrast the small beginning of the kingdom with its grand scope at the end of the age … What begins in a humble fashion will give way in time and through a mysterious process to a far greater and more encompassing reality. … In neither parable does the human observer cause the growth.” CONCORDIA COMMENTARY, Arthur Just.
-The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened. Once again, we are reminded of the source of Jesus’ stories. Jesus used the common experiences around him to tell his “earthly stories with heavenly meanings.” Jesus drew from every day life such as farmers and fields, weeds and wheat, corn and commerce. In this parable, Jesus looked to the closest experience in his life: growing up in the kitchen with his mother and watching her bake bread. His mother, Mary, would have taken three measures of flour which was the amount of flour needed for an average Jewish family in that day and Mary would have mixed in with that flour a lump of yeast or fermented dough. Jesus took that common experience from his childhood and made it a parable.
Transforming power of Jesus in our lives. The message and meaning are clear, especially for anyone who is a baker and bakes bread. You simply put a small portion of yeast or leaven into flour and it transforms the whole loaf. As Barclay said in his commentary, this story is about the “transforming power of the leaven.” Unleavened bread is hard and dry and not very appetizing, but fresh bread baked with leaven is soft, delicate, and delicious. So it is with the kingdom: a kingdom may be small but the rule of Christ can transform one’s whole life.
It is to be remembered that the transforming power of the seed and the leaven are not dependent on human effort. Human effort does not cause the growth. There is something much more than human effort and enterprise involved in this miraculous growth of the seed and the miraculous growth of the leaven.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: DESCRIBE HOW THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST/THE KINGDOM HAS GROWN IN YOUR LIFE.
#130. JESUS’ USE OF PARABLES
-All this he said to the crowds in parables. We are again reminded that most of the crowds may not have comprehended his parables.
-Indeed, he said nothing to them (the crowds) without a parable. This shows that Jesus truly loved the form of parables. He could draw the people in the crowds into his stories and they would begin to wonder about the meaning of his clever and ingenious stories to them. Jesus spoke to the crowds so they would hear the gospel and figure out the meaning of the parables and apply those parables to their own lives. In time, some of them would become disciples.
-He explained everything privately to his own disciples. That is what we are doing in this class together. Jesus is still explaining the meaning of his stories to his own disciples. We read books about the parables; we listen to each other and what each of us ascertains is the meaning of the parable; we listen to the rabbi of the class tell us what he or she thinks the parables mean. Today, Jesus is still teaching his disciples the meaning of his riddles about the reign of God in our lives.
#132. THE PARABLES OF THE HIDDEN TREASURE AND OF THE PEARL
These two parables are uniquely found in the Gospel of Matthew.
We discover that these two parables belong to each other, just as the previous two parables belong together. These two parables say the same thing.
We are reminded that Jesus borrowed from everyday experiences of life and that treasures were hidden in fields, especially when there were not any banks available.
In both parables, someone finds an incredible treasure (the kingdom) and goes and sells all that he has in order to obtain that treasure.
We are reminded that each parable or sets of parables has a unique theme, a distinctive flavor, a different emphasis about one facet of the kingdom. In these two parables, we are taught that the kingdom of God, the reign of God in our lives, is worth more than any human possession, that we could total up all of our earthly possessions and they would not be worth as much as God’s reign in our lives. We have not encountered this theme so far in the study of the parables of Jesus but we encountered this same theme previously in the teachings of Jesus. That is, in the teachings of Jesus, we were taught that it is wise to love the kingdom more than our family, home and possessions.
- "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.
-From a sermon entitled, TREASURES AND PEARLS
-“Jesus said: The kingdom of God is like this: there was a hired man who worked in this field and it wasn’t a very good field either, with lots of rocks in it. Not a field worth owning. The farmer was plowing along one day, with his wooden plow and its iron tips, behind his own scrawny mule wearing a worn out harness. And he kept on hitting rocks in this crummy piece of land. Clunk. And the farmer would stop and dig out the rock. He would plow a little more and another clunk. Another rock. And he would dig it out. He dug out so many rocks, that a rock fence surrounded this field, as is often true of ancient fields. Plow, clunk, dig. Plow, clunk, dig, Plow, clank. Clank? That was a different sound? A clank and not a clunk. He stooped down, dug and there was, not a rock, but a treasure chest. As you may recall, there were no banks in Jesus’ day, and people often buried their treasures in fields. He opened up the treasure box and it was filled with ..... priceless jewels. Incredible. His heart skipped a beat. He quickly covered up his new found treasure and kept on plowing as if nothing happened. At the end of the day, he went and sold the shirt off his back, sold his old mule, sold the old harness, sold the iron tipped plow. In fact, he sold everything he owned in order to buy that field. Get it? Do you understand?? About the kingdom??
I’ll tell you another riddle. The kingdom? It’s like merchant, a very wealthy merchant, who owned fleets of ships that traveled all the seas of the world. His ships went to the farthest ends of the earth in search of the finest jewels the world had ever seen. His treasure chests were filled with the finest emeralds, rubies, jasper. And one day, in his travels, he saw a pearl like he had never seen before, a pearl of great price. Quietly, he went and sold all his ships, his entire fleet of ships, all his jewels, all his emeralds, rubies and jasper. He happily sold it all and bought this onefinest pearl the world had ever seen. Get it? Do you understand the riddle? About the kingdom of God?
And then the people would go home and try to figure out the riddle and how it applied to their lives. They would try to understand what this all meant.
A person who understood about the treasures of the kingdom is the author to our Vacation Bible School curriculum that we used recently. The theme of VBS was “Treasures of the Kingdom”, and the chancel area was decorated like Treasure Island, with palm trees and treasure chests and hidden treasures all over the place. It was a grand scene. The children learned the theme song the first day, a theme song that sang over and over again, a theme song that was so catching it stayed in your mind and wouldn’t leave you. It went like this: “I found me a treasure, I found a friend, I found Jesus, and his love will never end; I found me a treasure, I found a friend, I found Jesus, and his love will never end.” And that chorus was endlessly repeated, almost annoyingly so, and you couldn’t get it out of your mind.
Everybody had found the treasure, except the Professor, Professor Reginald Worthingsworth Longbottum, the Fourth. The Professor showed up every day with a map, trying to find the lost treasure of golden bananas. His map was to lead him to the golden bananas and when he found the bananas made of gold, he would become infinitely rich. Each of the four days, he would come up empty. He could never find his golden bananas and he became so discouraged. And then one day, a person told him that he had the wrong map; that he needed another map to find a different treasure. She gave him the Bible and told the Professor that inside the Bible were clues to the Real Treasure of life. He opened the Bible to the first clue which were the circled Bible verses from Matthew 13; the kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field. When the farmer finds it, he happily sells all he has and buys the field. The kingdom is like a merchant, who finding a great pearl, happily sells all his ships and jewels to get the pearl of great price. The Professor read the verses, and the Bible and Spirit started to miraculously sink into his heart and head; that Jesus was the pearl of great price, the hidden treasure. And slowly and surely the Professor began to sing the song that the children had understood all along: “I found me a treasure, I found a friend, I found Jesus, and his love will never end.” And then the Professor sang more fully and vigorously, “ I found me a treasure...” The Professor finally got it. He got it. The riddle of life.
So often in life, we are like the Professor. We have the wrong maps and are looking in the wrong place for the wrong treasures. I am that way and so are you. We have this map, “how to succeed with your family” and we study this map so diligently, wanting to succeed as a husband, wife, father, mother, with our marriage and children. Or we have this other map, “how to succeed with your work,” and we study this map so carefully, working so hard throughout our whole lives, trying to succeed in our occupation. Or we have this third map, “how to succeed with money and gain financial security,” and we study this map, trying to gain this grand illusion of financial wealth. And so we study our maps; that is, we read our books, listen to our TV talk shows, and talk with our friends on how to succeed with these very important matters. And then it slowly dawns on us, that we may be on the wrong map, the wrong map and looking for the wrong things. That as important as family, job and financial security are, that there is something more important than these. There is another map, the map of God, the Bible, in which you may find the greatest treasure of all, the Kingdom, the Real Presence of God, The Real Presence and Power of God in all aspects of your life. You may find the Living Spirit of the Living God. You may find Jesus, the Greatest Treasure of them all. Inside of you. And around you. Guiding you. Strengthening you. Yes, very often in life, we find ourselves putting an incredible amount of time and energy on the wrong maps, looking for the wrong things. At least, I know I do and I suspect you do as well.” End of this portion of the sermon.
DISCUSSION QUESTION: WHAT ARE YOUR MOST VALUABLE POSSESSIONS IN YOUR LIFE? WHY ARE THESE SO VALUABLE TO YOU?
#133. THE PARABLE OF THE NET
This is another uniquely Matthew parable and it is another judgment parable.
The themes of this parable are similar to the themes in the parable of the weeds and wheat. That is, the scene would have been very familiar to Jesus’ audience. Fish of every kind were caught. The fish were sorted into two groups, the good and bad fish. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels of God will separate the righteous people from the evil people. The angels will throw the evil people into a fiery furnace, where they will cry and grind their teeth in pain.
See the GOSPEL ANALYSIS for Pentecost 9A about the WEEDS AND THE WHEAT.
- 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.
#134. TREASURES OLD AND NEW
-Have you understood this? Underline the phrase, “Have you understood this?” Jesus asked this question of his disciples and Jesus asks us this question also. Are we starting to “get it?” Are we starting to grasp the reign of God for our lives and in our lives? Jesus asks us today if we are understanding his parables, his riddles about the reign of God in our lives? Jesus wants us to understand his parables so that we will begin to live out those parables in our daily lives.
We recall Jesus’ first parable in Matthew 13 about the Sower and the Seed and the emphasis on the good soil. People are to be like good soil who “hear the Word of God, understand it, and bear much fruit, a hundred, sixty, and thirty fold.” Jesus wants us to understand the Word of God and also to bear much fruit as a consequence.
-They (the disciples) said yes. This is the answer that Jesus wanted two thousand years ago and this is the answer that Jesus wants from us today.
-Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. In the kingdom of Jesus, there are things from the old and things from the new. For example, from the thousands of pages and paragraphs called the Old Testament, Jesus found two lines: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and soul (Deuteronomy 6:4) and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18).” These commandments were old, but also were totally new. Jesus took something that was very familiar and old and transformed these Old Testament teachings to become new. Jesus took the old Bible verses that the Jews had memorized and transformed them into a new faith.
Similarly with us today, we bring something old that can become something new. That is, we all know the stories about Jesus, Bible verses about Christ, traditions about our religious heritage, and have memories of our faith. We have studied the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and God takes this “old information” and these “old values” and these “old traditions” and transforms them into something new. As we are studying the life, teachings and parables of Jesus through his Word, it may be that these “old familiar stories” are becoming new to us. As we study the old familiar stories, we may find that our hearts and minds are being opened in a new and fuller way to God’s kingdom, to God’s rule of our daily lives.