The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

THE PARABLE OF THE HIDDEN TREASURE  —  Pete Bauer, 1-18-15

To listen to the audio, click on this link–Matt.13:44.

This morning we want to look at another parable about the Kingdom of God.  This is a parable about the nature of conversion–which is a change, a redirection of a person’s orientation towards God, (from resistance to submission–from ignorance to understanding–from hatred to love).  Or we can say that this is a parable about what theologians call “regeneration”–which describes a kind of awakening to a spiritual life, not previously experienced.

Jesus’s parable leaves a lot of room for rich and varied understanding (like the facets of a jewel), and yet it also focuses us in on three basic components of what it means to enter the Kingdom of God.

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.” (NIV)

Awakening: We Discover the Kingdom of God in Different Ways.

Probably, if we were to go around the room and ask people to explain how they came to faith, we would find that there are as many different stories about how people have come to find God (to be found by God) as there are people. However, there is a temptation to read Jesus’s parable about the hidden treasure being discovered, and to take a certain, one size fits all, view of conversion, which does not reflect our individuality or the multi-faceted wisdom of God, whose ways, we are told, are mysterious to us–and not our ways, (Isaiah 55:7-9).  Yet, the scripture suggests that the treasure of the Kingdom of God is discovered, in many different ways.  (our list can only ever be partial)

  • Sudden Dramatic Experience:  God spoke to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19), and his conversion seems to have been sudden–although, later Paul, while telling king Agrippa about his experience, suggests that he had been resisting the promptings of God (“… I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”).
  • A Slowly Dawning Awareness: The Apostle Peter’s conversion seems to have been a much longer process.  He followed Jesus for a number of years, having occasional glimpses of understanding and conviction, yet continually missing the point.  Jesus tells him just before his crucifixion and trial, “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat,  but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back (or “when you are converted”), you must strengthen your brothers.” (Lk.22:31-32).
  • Instruction and Understanding:  The Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion seems to have been a matter of just needing instruction. In Acts 8:30-39, he was instructed by Philip, who explained the good news about Jesus, and then he went on his way rejoicing.
  • Wrestling to Accept Truth:  Nicodemus, in John 3 had yet a different experience.  He was clearly wrestling to accept something difficult for him to believe and understand.
  • Deliverance from Bondage:  Then there are instances like the demon possessed man at Gerasa, whom Jesus delivered.

There are different ways in which people come to faith (sudden conviction, deliverance from bondage of some kind, wrestling with truth, basic instruction).  However in every instance there is a conversion, a regeneration, a discovery of the treasure of the Kingdom of God.

Hiddenness: What We Discover is Mysterious.

The Mystery is Hidden in a Field: Hidden or buried treasure sounds like an adventure story.  This, I think, is intended by Jesus.  Finding the Kingdom of God is not an easily scripted series of steps that one does–it is not like following simple directions to set up your VCR.  Rather, finding the Kingdom of God is more like an adventure in which there is a treasure that we did not expect to find, that fills us with wonder and tension and drama. Not everyone finds this treasure, as we all know, which is what makes the story exciting.

However, the Church (in general) has had all kinds of programs through which believers have been trained to give people the simple directions for finding treasure.  We wonder when our simple directions are ignored, or don’t work for someone who truly seems to be searching.  We need to see that this is because people need more than our simple directions.  Every person who has discovered the treasure has needed more than simple directions–we have needed the wonder, the adventure, the joy and uncertainty of finding this hidden thing and being changed by it, because life is not easily scripted.  And somehow, when we introduce the Kingdom of God as something without mystery, easily understood in just 3-4 simple steps, we create something false–something that dries out the true, mysterious, beautiful life we have found.

The Mystery is Hidden Again:  Jesus could have said that the man dug up the treasure and took what he wanted and left the rest out in the field for others to find easily, but he doesn’t–because that is not how this story goes.The man hides the treasure again.

Now it is true that every illustration breaks down and we don’t want to be too dogmatic about parables and specific phrases.  However, I think that Jesus is stating a reality here about the Kingdom.  If the treasure is able to be mass-produced and easily found, then there is not much adventure or joy in finding it.  When treasure becomes easily explained and obtained by the church, there are several bad results.

  • Instead of dealing with people in their lives and where they are, lovingly, thoughtfully, and inviting them to experience an adventure, we tend to throw treasure at them and hope they pick it up.
  • We lay our treasure out in the field and then put all kinds of conditions on who can find it and what routes they must take before they can get to the treasure.
  • We treat something that is not easy, that is mysterious, as though it could be easily grasped, and offer it in ways that do not produce joy or life to people, who are also mysterious and not easily understood. (Jesus spent three years with his disciples, teaching, exemplifying, and yet they were not understanding until after his resurrection and Pentecost).

Pursuit: Obtaining the Treasure.

He Sold All he Owned to Obtain the Treasure:  The third idea, and perhaps the great emphasis of the parable, is what the man did to obtain the treasure.  He sold everything he owned to buy the field where the treasure was because the treasure was vastly more valuable than everything he owned.  It it were the case that the treasure had been about the same, or little more than what the man already had, there would have been little reason for him to disrupt his life in this way.

The point, however, is obvious:  We who find the treasure of the Kingdom of God will come to understand (whether immediately or over time), that it is more valuable than all that we have–all that our lives consist of.  To the extent that we have found treasure, and not merely a new and useful, or even noble, way to live, we will begin to see the former treasures of our lives as so much junk.  Those things a person values and pursues pre-treasure, tend either to fall away, or to be permanently altered and renewed by that treasure. (examples)

As a result, we will find that the treasure of the Kingdom of God does not fit nicely or easily into the lives that we have already constructed for ourselves.  Treasure stories are all about disrupted lives.  One cannot discover hidden treasure and remain the same or continue, in an undisrupted way, to live the life one has always lived.  In a sense, the measure of the disruption of our former lives is also a measure of the meaning of the treasure we have found.

Where Your Treasure is, Your Heart Will Be Also:  This morning is a time to think about and consider the place of the Treasure of the Kingdom, in our lives.  Some of us, perhaps, have not yet discovered the treasure that is worth exchanging our lives for.  Others of us have, perhaps, discovered the treasure but have tried to change the adventure and mystery of our story into an easily managed, less rich method of life that leaves us cold.  So ask yourself whether you have discovered the treasure of the Kingdom, whether you are living in the mysterious story of adventure and pursuit.

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