Parables are prisms. Depending on how you hold them in your imagination, they display different rays of light. This pair of parables is a case in point.
Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs, in his commentary on Matthew, interprets these parables in a specific way. The person who finds the treasure or the pearl in these parables is Jesus. Jesus is the one who comes into the world, sells all He has and thereby redeems us, His treasured people. For the preacher who interprets the parables in this fashion, the sermon offers an opportunity to change the perspective of the hearers. Some approach these parables with the assumption they need to do something (e.g., “I need to give up all I have to follow Jesus”). They will be surprised and comforted when have nothing to do. Jesus has done it all. He has found them, given up all for them, and now claims them as His own.
In this meditation on the text, however, I will not follow that interpretation. For me, the treasure in the parables is the Gospel and they offer us a glimpse of a pattern we see in the ministry of Jesus. The pattern has three parts to it, lending itself to an expository sermon that teaches three truths.
First, God’s Kingdom comes by grace to those who are searching and to those who are not. As the parables open, they are quite dissimilar. In the first parable, we have a person who is not searching for a treasure. He is merely there in someone else’s field. Suddenly, however, he comes across a treasure, unexpectedly. In the second parable, we have a person who is described as searching for a pearl. He is a merchant who can calculate a pearl’s value and is intent on finding one of great price. For both men, searching and not searching, however, the kingdom comes. It happens to them. They suddenly discover it, regardless of whether they were seeking it or not.
In the ministry of Jesus, God’s Kingdom comes to those who are searching (see Acts 17:27) and not searching. Some of the people Jesus encounters are searching for the Kingdom. John the Baptizer, Simeon and Anna, Nicodemus, Zacchaeus, and the rich young ruler to name a few. To these people who are searching for the Kingdom, Jesus comes. Others, however, are not looking at all. Peter, Andrew, James, and John are fishing. Matthew is collecting taxes at his booth. The Widow of Nain is burying her son. To these people who are not searching, the Kingdom also comes. Whether you are searching or not searching, God’s Kingdom comes by grace.
Whether you are searching or not searching, God’s Kingdom comes by grace.
So, it continues today. A child baptized as an infant is not seeking the Kingdom, but an adult convert may have struggled for years to find meaning in life before encountering Jesus. Whether you are seeking or not seeking, God’s Kingdom comes to you in Jesus by grace.
Second, when God’s Kingdom comes, it causes you to value all of life differently. In both parables, once individuals encounter the Kingdom, they sell all they have. There is not one aspect of their life that does not have value in relation to this kingdom.
So, too, in His ministry, Jesus taught His disciples to see their lives differently. Rather than lay up for themselves treasures on earth, they give up all they have and follow him, laying up treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-20). The call to discipleship involves losing one’s life for the sake of Christ. When a disciple loses one’s life, the disciples find true life in Him (Matthew 10:39).
This continues today. As God’s people, we have a different view on life. With Jesus, our lives are suddenly transformed. The poor in spirit, the mourning, and the meek are blessed and our lives are a witness of God’s work in the world (Matthew 5). A child in the womb is a life to be protected. An elderly person, living with dementia, is not someone who God will forget but, rather, one for whom God cares. When the Kingdom comes, all of life is valued differently.
Third, discipleship is learning to live off the grace of God in His kingdom. Some parables in Scripture are open-ended. They leave you wondering. Will the elder son return to his father and join the prodigal son’s party (Luke 15:31-32)? Will the barren fig tree bear fruit (Luke 13:9)? These two parables in Matthew leave us in a paradoxical situation. How will these people live? They have sold all they have to possess the treasure and yet now they will need to rely on the treasure for the necessities of life. In other words, those who possess the Kingdom are actually possessed by it.
Discipleship is learning to live off the grace of God in His kingdom.
For the disciples, following Christ means living daily off His grace. Like the master Jesus speaks of at the end of these parables, disciples continually return to the treasures of the Kingdom, bringing out what is new and what is old (Matthew 13:52).
In a consumerist culture, Christians can reduce the gospel to a commodity; something they possess like the Bible they keep on their shelf. The reign and rule of Jesus, however, is not a commodity. It is a present experience at work in our lives. In daily repentance, we come before Jesus to receive forgiveness of sins and in daily delight, we walk in His grace. Having sold all we have, we live only in relationship to Him.
These parables invite us to consider the mysterious way of the reign of God. The Kingdom of God comes by grace to those who are seeking and not seeking it. When it comes, it causes you to value all of life differently. Discipleship is learning to live off the grace of God in His kingdom.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 13:44-52.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 13:44-52.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Matthew 13:44-52.