Our Someone, Treasure, and Pearl

Matthew 13:44-46                                          

If you come by my office, a lot of times you’ll hear me playing Counting Crows. There’s a simple reason for that. Dr. Berg’s office is next to mine and he can’t stand Counting Crows music. Sometimes I play other stuff, though. I think my colleagues will say my choices are pretty eclectic. One of my favorite bands is the Avett Brothers. They have one line in one song that I really dig. It goes like this: “If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected” (“Road Full of Doubt, Head Full of Promise”). These parables get at that. “If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected.”

The man in our first parable buys the whole field—rocks, thorns, and all. We also get the whole field, the church, every color, prude and junkie alike, Jew and Greek, together with the wisdom, beauty, and cultural treasures they bring in the One who upholds all truth. The man takes on the whole field, because that’s where the Treasure is. As Jesus puts it, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).  

Robert Farrar Capon notes, “People converted by fear-mongering are converted from evil, not to truth.” We have this treasure in this field, not only or even primarily to avoid hell, but to go to heaven, and to live freely here, in a world given back to us, in Christ, in truth, both capital “T” and the little “t” kind. We’ve not only found an escape. We have found a treasure. We are converted to chemistry, philosophy, history, theater, and environmental science even as we are converted to Christ. These things are given back to us in the light of the treasure. It would be too small a treasure, to mundane a pearl, if it didn’t go beyond a personal religious experience, a personal enlightenment or gain, if it were simply the avoidance of bad things and not the pursuit of truth and employment of truth for our neighbors, all of our neighbors, in Christ.

This pearl is a liberating thing. It’s a happy purchase. We’re freed from all else for all else. We don’t buy our new car to hide it in the garage. We don’t buy that new pair of jeans that fit perfectly to keep them in the closet. We buy them to enjoy them, to drive and strut.

Many of us have seen memes that show some new product and someone saying, “Take my money.” This is the gospel. Except we don’t sell it. It’s hidden in a field. Through preaching, God has us stumble upon it. And when the gospel takes hold, and when we see how radically it changes things—us, our neighbor, and the world given back to us—we want to get out and drive, we want to enjoy it with others, even the rocks and thorns, the prudes and junkies, the Greeks and Jews. And far from detracting our enjoyment, they enhance it. We’re not like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings with “my precious” for me. We recognize, instead, that this treasure is what our neighbor needs as well, what makes human flourishing possible, where true Shalom, wholeness peace, is found.

Compare two men from Mark’s Gospel. First, consider the rich young man from chapter 10. He comes to Jesus and Jesus loves him. He seems a sincere man, but he wants to buy this treasure in a way our text isn’t talking about. And so Jesus, in love, must break him, must disappoint. The buying in our text isn’t work righteousness or transactional. It’s a joyous splurge. The treasure drives the purchase, not the purchaser. The rich young man wants to do the right works. Jesus then points him to the second table of the law about life with our neighbor. The man asks if Jesus has anything harder. Jesus points the man to the First Commandment, which is kept only through faith, the gift of God, and promises treasure in heaven. The rich young man, though, is enslaved by the wrong treasure. He can’t sell it all and give to the poor (give for his neighbor) as Jesus demands. He refuses to be free.

Now consider the Gerasene demoniac from chapter 5, one of my favorite people in the Scriptures. He knows he’s enslaved, captured, caught up, possessed. He lives among the tombs, can’t be bound for his own good, even with strong chains. He cuts himself and howls all night and runs around naked. And Jesus frees him. And that man becomes the only sane man in town, clothed and in his right mind, as Mark tells us at the end of that account. And he has found his Treasure. He will gladly leave all to follow Jesus, because he has been freed. But Jesus doesn’t command him to do anything drastic. Jesus refuses his offer to go wherever Jesus goes, to become His traveling companion. Rather, Jesus tells him to go enjoy the world given back to him—vocation—and to tell others what God has done for him. In other words, show off the Pearl. Drive and strut in the new duds of God’s grace.

We make all of this more difficult than we have to, don’t we? Maybe you think I’m doing that by this point. Here’s what it boils down to, though. “If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected.” We are loved by someone. We have the Treasure, the Pearl, and so we have a confidence, not in ourselves, but in that Treasure, that Pearl—the confidence of faith—and that spills over. That Treasure and Pearl isn’t only for us, even if we’ve sold all we have to buy it. That selling and buying, after all, is Christ freeing us, not some great deed on our part. It’s a steal of a deal, the great exchange, not a great sacrifice. Christ has handled the sacrifice part.

The thing is, though, people aren’t going to be looking to buy, to be freed from all that enslaves them, as the rich young man was, if they don’t find the treasure, the pearl, and that may take time. We buy the whole field, though, rocks and thorns and all, prudes and junkies, Jews and Greeks, and so if we, the church, have one thing, it’s patience. We are baptized into a relationship with our neighbor, planted in the field, and so we love in that field—the whole field. While our neighbor might not yet know the value of the treasure or all that it brings and transcends and transforms, we do, and we want it for them. And so we love. We love indiscriminately. We love in Christ, for our neighbor, just as Christ did, taking prude and junkie, Jew and Greek, and us, up into Himself on the cross. And so we are a Christian people—a people in Christ, about Christ, and even little Christs for our neighbor, as Christ works through us for other’s good. The Treasure, the Pearl, so captures and enamors us that we can’t help but find in it our greatest joy, true beauty, and a consuming reason for living. We are loved by the Divine Someone and so we are never rejected (“if God is for us, who can be against us?). And so, likewise, we are no longer in the rejecting business, but are one people, the children of God, the field in which the Treasure is found through Word and Sacrament.

Wade Johnston

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