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PROPER12 Treasures And Trash

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Proper 12

Pentecost 10

Ordinary Time 17

6. Treasures And Trash

Matthew 13:44-52

"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.

45"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search

of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went

and sold all that he had and bought it.

47"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was

thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was

full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into

baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the

age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the

righteous, 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there

will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

51"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes."

52And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been

trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a

household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is

old."

The parables in Matthew 13:44-52 continue the series of

eight that are found in this chapter. The previous parables were

told in public to a large crowd (see Matthew 13:1-3). Now Jesus

moves into a house where the disciples came to him (Matthew

13:36). He first explains the parable about the weeds among the

wheat. He then proceeds to tell the three parables in Matthew

13:44-52. Two of the parables, the treasure hidden in the field

and the pearl of great value, are twins. The third parable about

the net and

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fishes is a twin to the earlier parable about the weeds and the

wheat. This follows a familiar organizing principle in Matthew

of ABBA. Again all three parables are intended to describe the

nature and value of the kingdom of heaven. They all begin with

the same phrase, "the kingdom of heaven is like ..." The section

ends with a summary statement addressed to the disciples who are

compared to scribes.

Context

The parables are for the tenth Sunday following Pentecost

and conclude a series of three Sundays dealing with the parables

of the kingdom from Matthew 13.

Context of the Lectionary

The First Lesson. (Genesis 29:15-28) The story of Jacob

continues from last week. He is now working for Laban. The

trickster who tricked his brother out of his inheritance is in

turn tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. He had to

work another seven years before he finally was granted Rachel as

his wife.

The Second Lesson. (Romans 8:26-39) The first half of this

reading gives assurance of support by the Spirit. The second

half gives further assurance that all things work together for

good for those who are called by God. It is one of the key

passages that raises the difficult issue of predestination. It

ends with the assertion that nothing in all the world can

separate the faithful from the love of God.

Gospel. (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52) The reading brings to a

conclusion the three-week series of parables followed from

Matthew 13.

Psalm. (Psalm 105:1-11, 45b) The Psalm connects the

seeking of the second parable in today's gospel reading about the

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pearl of great value. It also relates back to the God of

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with the promise of the holy land given

to Moses in the first lesson for today. It ends with an

exclamation of praise to the Lord.

Context of Related Scripture

Leviticus 11:9-12 Ä Description of clean and unclean fish.

Job 19:6 Ä Closed into a net by God.

Job 28:18 Ä "The price of wisdom is above pearls."

Psalm 66:11 Ä Use of the image of the net into which we are

drawn.

Ecclesiastes 9:12 Ä Image of fish caught into a cruel net

compared with mortals snared by calamity.

Habakkuk 1:15-17 Ä An opposing view of the net as used by

the enemy.

Matthew 6:19-21 Ä (Luke 12:33-34) Ä Treasures on earth or

heaven.

Matthew 6:33 Ä Seeking first the kingdom.

Matthew 7:6 Ä Throwing pearls before swine.

Matthew 25:14-30 Ä Note that one of the servants buried a

talent in the earth for safe keeping.

Revelation 22:21 Ä Each of the 12 gates are made from a

single pearl.

Content

The first two parables are more similes than parables. They

do not provide many details. Nothing is said about the amount of

the treasure in the first instance. It is assumed that the

treasure is of considerable size. In the second parable nothing

is said about why the person would want to possess the pearl. Was

the merchant wanting to sell it again and gain a great profit?

Or did he want it as a source of status and pride of possession?

These kinds of questions were not of concern in telling the

story. The main point of each is the good fortune that each had

in discovering the treasure and the price they were willing to

pay to possess them.

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Some contrasts can be noted between the first two parables.

In the treasure hidden in the field, the person who found the

treasure was probably poor. He had to sell all that he had to

purchase the field. The person in the parable of the costly

pearl apparently was of some wealth since he could afford to

travel to find the pearl.

A second contrast is between the accidental finding of the

treasure in the field as opposed to the merchant who went

searching for the beautiful pearl. A third contrast is between

the presumed multiple nature of the treasure in a box as opposed

to the unitary nature of the pearl.

The third parable would particularly speak to the disciples

who were fishermen. They no doubt had often sat on the shore of

Galilee and sorted out their catch of fish. They would cast

aside the fish which were considered unclean by the Levitical

law. This parable is very similar to the parable of the weeds in

the wheat in that the good and the bad were mixed together, the

weeds in the field of wheat and the good and bad fish in the sea.

They both have the element of harvest before the good and the bad

were separated. They both have as their main point the implied

warning of the fate of the bad as opposed to the fate of the

good.

The final verses of the section offer a summary statement of

the entire chapter. Matthew earlier had contrasted what was said

from the old tradition with what Jesus said as fulfillment of the

intention but which became a new statement of the principles. It

is not entirely clear exactly what the reference to the old and

the new is. The most general understanding would be the old as

the Law and the new as the Gospel. It could also be the old as

representing the human kingdom of Israel which was bound by

geography and ethnicity while the new is the spiritual kingdom

that is universal in scope and no longer bound by the

particularity of time and place.

Precis of the Parables

The emphasis of the twin parables is on the joy at the good

fortune of those who find the kingdom. All other treasures that

persons find of value are to be sacrificed to obtain the much

greater

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value of the kingdom. The third parable underscores the same

point as the previous parable of the weeds in the wheat. At the

end of history a sorting takes place between good and evil. Only

the good eventually survives and endures. The final verse

suggests that the disciples retain the values which they had

received from Judaism. They are also to understand the new

interpretations and teachings which came from Jesus.

Thesis: The incomparable worth of the kingdom of heaven.

Theme: The kingdom is worth any cost.

Key Words in the Parables

1. "Heaven." (v. 44) Matthew uses the term the kingdom of

heaven where Luke speaks of the kingdom of God. The difference

reflects the cultural background of the two writers. Matthew

comes from a Hebrew background. He would be reluctant to use the

name of God. In the Old Testament, it was the name written but

not pronounced. The term heaven is a euphemism to avoid the

danger of profaning the name of God. Luke had a gentile

background. He would not have the same hesitation as Matthew.

2. "Hidden in a field." (v. 44) In biblical times no one

had banks which were a secure place to deposit wealth. Houses

also were not safe places to keep a treasure. Especially in

times of chaos, such as war, people would bury their gold,

silver, jewels, and other precious items which were durable in

the ground. Subsequently, they might be killed or exiled and the

knowledge of the location of the hidden treasure was lost. At a

later time someone might stumble upon the treasure and recover

it.

3. "Found ... hid." (v. 44) We might raise the ethical

issue of finding a treasure in a field that did not belong to us

and then hiding it so we can purchase the field. Buying the

field without disclosing the true value of the field containing

the treasure is a form of deception. While the ethics might be

questionable, it was

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legal to do so at that time. An unclaimed hidden treasure became

the property of the owner of the place where it was located. The

law presumed that the seller of the field was not the owner of

the treasure or he would not sell it at a price much less than it

was worth. The principle was somewhat like the saying, "Finders

keepers, losers weepers!"

4. "A merchant." (v. 45) Pearls were not usually found in

Palestine. A merchant might travel to the Red Sea, the Persian

Gulf, or even to the Indian Ocean in search of pearls.

5. "Pearl." (v. 45) A pearl was a scarce item. It held a

place in the society of the time that diamonds hold in our

society. Pearls could be used as currency. To serve as currency

for trade, anything has to have certain properties. It has to be

relatively scarce to make it desirable. It has to be stable so

that it will not easily diminish in value over time. And it has

to be small enough to be easily portable. Pearls met all of

these requirements.

6. "Net." (v. 47) The net used would be a dragnet. It was

sometimes attached on shore at one end and then drug by the boat

out into the water to surround and catch the fish. At other

times two boats were used to drag the net in a large circle and

catch all the fish in a given area.

7. "Fish of every kind." (v. 47) It is not clear whether

Jesus deliberately intended to include every kind of fish in the

world and thereby to imply the universality of his message. He

may have intended to imply that the kingdom of heaven did not

just include the Jews. According to some sources, at the time

they thought all the different kinds of fish in the world

numbered 153.

8. "When it was full." (v. 48) This expression points to

the end of history, the time of fulfillment. At that time

judgment will be made.

9. "Threw out the bad." (v. 48) According to Levitical law

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only fish that had scales and fins were edible. People were not

to eat any swarming creatures in the water which did not have

fins and scales. They were detested.

10. "Scribes ... trained for the kingdom ..." (v. 52) The

disciples were to be learners. They had to be experts about the

nature of the kingdom of heaven as opposed to the scribes of the

Pharisees who were experts in the law. Some raise the question

as to whether at the time that Matthew wrote scribes were a

functioning position in the Christian church or not.

Contemplation

Insights

1. The Message of Joy. The person who found the treasure in

the field responded with joy at his discovery. Jesus frequently

participated in the joys of life. He attended weddings. He

enjoyed banquets. He found stimulating conversation in the home

of Mary and Martha. He attended a wedding. These activities

were quite a contrast to John the Baptist who lived a very

ascetic and probably lonely life in the desert. His was a

message of doom. Jesus, on the other hand, generally invited

people to the heavenly banquet. While those who came to John the

Baptist might be scared into repentance, those who followed Jesus

were attracted by his love. A Christian church which is an

evangelistic church will attract people by the joy manifested in

the life of the members who have discovered love, joy, and peace

in Christ.

2. The Highest Good. Often the enemy of the highest good is

the satisfaction with a lesser good. The merchant who searched

for the pearl of great value was restless with lesser values. In

a sense, human beings are never fully satisfied that they have

achieved their full potential. The Christian life is a constant

striving for complete fulfillment of possibilities. Christians

are drawn by the high example given in Jesus Christ. They can

constantly grow into the fullest maturity but they do so without

the

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pervasive anxiety of those who have the underlying feeling,

consciously or unconsciously, that they have missed the real

meaning of life.

3. Paying the Price. Note that neither the man who bought

the field nor the merchant had any hesitation or showed any

regrets in having to pay the price to acquire the treasure and

the pearl. Some Christians give the impression that they have

made a great sacrifice in becoming Christian. They have given up

"worldly pleasures" which have no enduring value. It is life in

the kingdom that gives real pleasure and satisfaction. It is not

fleeting and momentary but deep and lasting, if they have found

the love of Christ filling their lives and the presence of the

Spirit enabling them to embrace others and the world in love.

4. The Multiplicity of the Church. The net drew in fish of

every kind. The good fish were not all of one kind. In the

church it is not external or surface conditions which distinguish

the good from the bad. The church encompasses all those who

receive Christ and bear fruits of the kingdom regardless of race,

ethnicity, nationality, cultural distinctions, economic status,

social rank, or gender. The church also includes persons who are

at different stages in their growth toward full maturity in

Christ. The church does not exclude merely because of

differences, but nourishes, encourages, and supports each other

in the pursuit of realization of the kingdom among us.

5. The Sea. In Hebrew culture the sea and the desert were

generally symbolic of the untamed forces of the world which tend

toward chaos. God is the being who brings order out of the

chaotic forces of the world. We bring order into the chaotic and

untamed urges in our lives when we submit them to the order of

God's rule. We also then identify the sources of chaos in the

world around us. Secure under the sovereignty of God who is

working to order the world, we can face the uncertainties of life

and overcome them. Even death loses its fear because we know the

order of grace which transcends the world and death.

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6. Scribes trained for the kingdom. Jesus was in frequent

conflict with the scribes whom he confronted. They were trained

in the dead letter of the law. He was angered by the way their

sophistry enabled them to rationalize actions which in effect

defeated the intention of the law. They failed to recognize the

true moving of the spirit of life. One does not have to have all

knowledge to be a scribe in the kingdom. A scribe trained for

the kingdom does need to experience the realities of life. A

scribe needs to do what Peter eventually did. He moved beyond a

mere verbal confession of Christ to the experience of the power

of the resurrection. The scribe trained for the kingdom needs to

love Christ and tend his sheep with the knowledge of the love

that seeks and saves as a good shepherd.

Homily Hints

1. Finding the Kingdom. (vv. 44-46) People come to the

kingdom in different ways. The way they arrive is not the

important issue. That they enter the kingdom is the issue.

A. Finding by Accident

B. Finding after Long Searching

C. Entry is Always by Grace

2. The Supreme Treasure Hunt. (vv. 44-46) Life is a search

to discover the meaning God intended for human life.

A. Knowing the Treasure

B. Seeking the Treasure

C. The Cost of the Treasure

3. The Paradox of the Kingdom. (vv. 44-46) The contrasts

of the values of the kingdom with the accepted values of the

world appear to be upside down. What appears to be giving up

some values really results in restoring the fullest values to

them.

A. Giving up Self, Finding Self Fulfilled

B. Giving up Pleasures, Finding Life More Pleasurable

C. Giving up Life, Finding Eternal Life

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4. The Pearl as a Symbol. (vv. 44-45) The pearl is made

from life. It is the result of the action of the oyster to deal

with an irritation.

A. Turning Life's Irritations into Jewels. People have

taken adversities and turned them into priceless examples of

accomplishments.

B. Surrounding Evil with Love. Transforming evil with good

brings beauty in the midst of ugliness.

C. Overcoming Handicaps. Handicaps often become challenges

to excel rather than causes of defeat.

5. Training for the Kingdom. (v. 52) The person who would

be a scribe for the kingdom needs to develop discernment.

A. Discerning the Old and the New

B. Discerning the Treasure from Trash

C. Discerning the Good and the Bad

Contact

Points of Contact

1. The Excitement of a Treasure Hunt. A treasure hunt

excites the imagination. How excited we would be if we stumbled

onto an unexpected treasure Ä win the lottery, win the

sweepstakes, receive a large inheritance unexpectedly, find gold

or oil in our backyard. All these allow people to dream about

what they could do with such sudden fortune.

Yet often people who do come into such wealth are not happy

because of it. They are hounded by people who want to share in

their fortune. They discover relatives they never knew existed!

They quickly squander the riches and find the enjoyment of their

wealth was transitory. They may end up poorer than they were

before they suddenly became rich.

What a contrast to those who discover the treasure of the

kingdom. It opens ever new vistas of what life is all about.

They find themselves with "relatives," brothers and sisters in

the faith who do not demand from them but who support and

encourage

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them. Their lives are further enriched by finding an expanded

family of faith.

2. True Riches. Jesus admonished his hearers not to lay up

for themselves treasure on earth but treasures in heaven (Matthew

7:14-20). How much anxiety and fear we generate when we have our

treasures on earth. We try to find security for such treasures

by putting them in safe deposit boxes, by building fences or

walls, by installing locks to keep people out, or in other ways

seek to protect our treasures. People even become prisoners in

their own homes trying to keep their treasures secure.

How different it is when we have treasures in the kingdom of

heaven. It is not something to be protected from others. Rather

it is a joy to share. It opens life to other people. We do not

find ourselves impoverished by sharing our treasure. Instead we

find our lives enriched and our treasures enlarged in the

process.

3. Ever Seeking and Searching. Life is a process of growth.

Persons are goal-oriented beings. They are attracted by hope for

something better. The longing for fulfillment is finally

realized when persons find themselves in harmony with their

Creator. They find the longing satisfied when they realize the

purpose for which God intended them to be. In the life of the

flesh the possibility of continued growth is lifelong. Even when

the physical powers begin to fade and falter, spiritual growth

remains a continual search to the end of life in the flesh.

4. Worth the Risk. Both the person who found the treasure

in the field and the merchant who found the valuable pearl took

risks to obtain something they expected to give them greater

value. The persons who commit themselves to the kingdom of

heaven take the risk that they will find in living the life of

the kingdom, the truth about the meaning and purpose of life. It

is the great gamble. It bets that in this world they find joy

and satisfaction living in the kingdom as already present. It is

also the bet that life continues and finds final fulfillment

beyond this world. Still, even if this world is all they gain,

is it not worth the risk?

87

Points to Ponder

1. Where is the Treasure? The diversity of the two

treasures raises the issue of whether the treasure of the kingdom

is multiple or unitary. Do persons find the riches of the

kingdom in personal salvation, in the sense of release from sin

and guilt? Do they find the treasure in a transformed motivation

that leads to an ethical life which puts aside the temptations to

find the meaning of life in the pleasures of the flesh, or in the

temptations to spiritual pride? Or is the treasure found in the

life of the church, in the fellowship and community that offers

acceptance, that inspires to higher living, that supports and

comforts in times of weakness, pain, and distress? Or is the

treasure found in visioning a whole new world and working to

bring it to pass? Or is the treasure wrapped up in all the

above?

2. How is the Kingdom Found? The two parables have two

different ways to find the kingdom. The first has it found by

accident. The man stumbled on it unawares. Do some persons come

to the kingdom by accident? Do they stumble on it without

seeking and yet become aware of its meaning and significance? In

the second parable the merchant searched for the pearl, possibly

by extensive travel far and wide. Do persons come to the kingdom

by searching the scripture and by seeking the preacher who brings

them the word? Is the kingdom found in only one way or are many

ways open to find it since the Spirit blows where it wills?

3. The Standard of Judgment. Are we judged by our behaviors

which are open and visible to all, or are we judged by our

motivation, our inner intention and purposing which are so often

hidden from others? Some question is raised about the ethics of

the man who found the treasure in the field. He used deception

to get it by covering it up and paying less for the field than

the treasure was worth. Did Jesus condone his actions or only

want to emphasize the final outcome? Was it the behavior or the

motivation that Jesus drew upon?

88

4. Justice at the End. Does the parable of the dragnet with

its good and bad fish give hope and assurance that the universe

ultimately has a moral structure to it? Can we have faith that

while it often appears that crime does pay and the evil is

winning, in the final outcome of life and history God brings

justice? Is it our task to live the life of faithfulness in

trust, patience, and perseverance even when it seems that the

evil is winning and the good is being defeated? Is our hope in a

just outcome to life and history a reasonable hope? If so, how

do we act in light of that hope?

5. Interpreting the Net. Is it proper to use allegory in

interpreting the parable of the dragnet? Does the boat represent

the church that should be gathering the people in by its

evangelizing? Or is the basket the church into which the good is

gathered? Will history come to an end when the net is full and

the time for the separation of the good and bad fishes has come?

Are we to do the separation of the fish or are we to leave it to

God's especially appointed agents outside of history?

6. Scribes in the Church. The Presbyterian Church has at

times made a distinction between the Teaching Elder and the

Ruling Elders. The Ruling Elders are lay persons who govern the

local congregation. The Teaching Elder is the pastor. He or she

is trained to teach the church proper doctrine. Should the

pastor be the "scribe ... trained for the kingdom of heaven," or

should that be a separate function in the congregation, or should

every Christian be such a scribe?

7. The Old and the New. Jesus did not fit very well the

categories of liberal and conservative. He valued the scriptures

of his day but he also had the courage and wisdom to reinterpret

them. Every person probably is a mixture of liberal and

conservative. The conservative wants to preserve the values of

the past. The liberal wants to adapt to new understandings and

conditions. People in their youth tend to want to make the world

over in their own image, and thus are inclined to be liberal. As

they age, they want to keep that which they have worked to

create. So they become

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conservative. Does not every person at some point quit being a

liberal and become a conservative? What is the proper balance

between the old and the new that the Christian scribe should

seek?

Illustrative Materials

1. Searching, Yet Accidental. Augustine's spiritual

experience is well known. He had tried various routes to achieve

fulfillment. He was for a time a Manichean. It did not leave

him satisfied. He was led in his search by his pious mother

Monica, who prayed for him, and by the preaching of Saint Jerome

at Milan, which aroused him to search further. He was puzzled

when he, a professor of rhetoric, still did not seem to have the

joy in the Christian life as did the relatively unlearned monks

in the Nubian desert. Then one day as he paced his walled garden

in vexation, he heard the children in the next garden playing a

game in which they chanted, "Tolle Lege" Ä "Take and Read." He

picked up the scripture, read Romans 13:13-14, and it happened to

him. He was converted and became a leading figure in developing

the theology of the early church.

2. Contrasting Ways to the Kingdom. Luther searched in a

way similar to Augustine. He tried many ways to achieve a sense

of salvation. After being frightened almost to death when caught

in a thunderstorm and thrown to the ground by lightning, he vowed

to give up his study of law and become a monk. He joined one of

the strictest orders, the Augustinians. He almost killed himself

in ascetic practices, trying to atone for a sense of guilt. Still

he did not find peace in his spiritual life. He was sent to Rome

to assist in settling a church dispute. While there he went up

the Pilate's stairs on his hands and knees, repeating the Lord's

prayer in Latin. But he was repulsed by his pilgrimage instead

of being assured of salvation. Then as he prepared lectures on

Romans, he came to the verse in Romans 1:17 and similar passages

which led him to his central theological principle, that of

justification by faith. In that study he received almost

accidentally what he had long sought. But he was prepared to

receive it by his previous dissatisfactions and longings.

90

3. Trading for Greater Riches. Millard Fuller was a

successful business man. At a relatively young age he had become

wealthy. Then he decided that he should give up his business and

devote the rest of his life to serving others. He found his new

role in starting and leading Habitat for Humanity. He has been

successful in providing relatively inexpensive housing for

thousands around the world. He seems never to have regretted his

decision to give up his wealthy business to give others

affordable housing as his particular calling in the kingdom.

4. Unexpected Treasure. In October of 1984 a previously

unknown painting by William Merritt Chase called A View of

Prospect Park was bought at a Denver auction for $500. It was

dated about 1885-1886. On December 6, 1984, the painting sold at

an auction by Sotheby's for $451,000, the highest amount ever

paid at an auction for a Chase painting to that date. It was

bought by Alexander Galleries in New York.

The painting was bought so cheaply because it had not been

authenticated as by Chase. His name was written on it in green

paint, but others who examined it thought he would never have

written his name that way. (Reported in Art News, 84:19-20, Feb.

'85.)

5. Rich but Poor. Robert Polchek won $7.5 million in an

Ohio Super Lotto. He quit his $14,000-a-year job. He married

his high school sweetheart and built a house on eight acres of

land he bought. But friends and strangers hassled him for money.

He tried to sell his house, but when people found out he was a

lottery winner they wanted him to take a lower price for it.

Finally he snapped on January 23, 1994. He set his house on fire

after calling the Medina County emergency dispatcher. He was

arrested by two officers as he sat watching his house burn. On

July 12, 1994, he was convicted of felony aggravated arson. He

could face the possibility of being sentenced to 10 to 25 years

in prison. At this writing he is more likely to receive a

maximum fine of $10,000 and be required to reimburse the

volunteer fire department $2,500. Though he receives $300,000

each June from his lottery winning, he is an angry man. Family

and friends say it ruined him.

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