St. Matthew 13:44-52
The church gathers in the Divine Service on this day, the 11th Sunday of Pentecost, and she ponders the parables of Jesus Christ. While parables are often difficult to understand, they have the potential to unlock the mysteries of the Christian church, the mysteries of how Jesus thinks, and how we are to live and breathe as Christians in this world.
The parables in the gospel for today are rather clear, in my opinion. A man sells all he has to buy a field that contains a treasure. A merchant finds a costly pearl and sells all that he has to buy the pearl of great price. A dragnet is cast into the sea and draws out many fish. The bad are thrown out and the good are kept. In each of the parables, Jesus begins by saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”
Much musing can be done on these parables. We may think that the man who finds the treasure and sells all that he has could be you and me. After all, the kingdom of God is a treasure worth having. The same goes for the pearl of great price. It is strange, though, that the world’s response to the kingdom of heaven is often not like this.
How many people do we know who have been offered this pearl of great price, but have found no need for it. How many people have received this pearl of great price, or this rich treasure but have found worldly things more interesting?! As always, we must look for the proper context of these parables. We know that Jesus is speaking, but to whom is He speaking? What is the setting?
Earlier in this chapter we are told that Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” So, Jesus explains the previous parable, but proceeds to tell them these parables we ponder today. When Jesus is finished telling the disciples the parables, He asks them, “Have you understood all these things? And they responded by saying, “Yes, Lord.”
Then Jesus ends by saying, “therefore, every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” The whole text for today hinges on the interpretation of this last verse. Jesus is speaking to His disciples. He tells parables about the kingdom of God being like a costly pearl, and then says that a scribe is like one who brings out of his treasure new and old things. What is Jesus getting at?
Well, a scribe was a teacher of the law. He was learned and highly respected. He was taught by a Rabbi and everything he knew was from what his Rabbi had taught him. What does this mean for the disciples? What does this mean for you and me? To understand this saying of Jesus, we have to understand the role that those disciples were to play in the kingdom of God. As we well know, the disciples of Jesus become the first apostles who are sent out to preach and teach.
What they are being told to do in the future is to reach into their treasury of wisdom, that which they have been taught, and preach Jesus Christ from the Old Testament and the New Testament. They previously had the understanding of the Old Testament, and with the teachings and instructions of Jesus, they are being given some new things to preach.
All of this bears meaning for you and me. Just like the men in the parables, we have found a rich treasure as well. The Bible is like a vast field and, as you and I know, all kinds of religious groups use the scriptures to push their agendas. But we Lutherans have found the treasure.
The Bible is not a how to guide to form the perfect government. The Bible is not a how to guide to have a perfect moral life, or a manual on how to elect the next President. Go to Barnes and Noble to the Spirituality section and look at the plethora of books of so called evangelists who have supposedly found the key to better living.
Those who use the Bible as a “how to guide” have not found the treasure yet. The treasure is Jesus. We see it in such places as St. Matthew 5, where Jesus says that He came not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, that is the Old Testament, but He came to fulfill it. St. Luke 18:31 says, “all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. If the disciples were going to be “householders,” then they were going to have to pull out of their treasury the correct interpretation of the Bible.
They were going to have to find the sayings of the Old Testament which speak of Christ. To put it in line with the last verse of the gospel, they are going to have to pull out of their treasury the old treasure. Likewise, they were going to have to pull out of their treasury some of the new treasure, which is preaching the New Testament. Take the sayings of Jesus and preach Christ crucified and resurrected.
This holds true for you and me today. If we are going to understand the Bible, if we are going to understand why we are here in this church, then we need to know why we are here. Furthermore, we need to know what we seek here. If we think that we are doing our good deed by coming to church, then we have missed the point. If we are coming here because its family tradition, we are not doing ourselves any favors. We should be here because it is here that treasures new and old come out for us to ponder and hear.
We are here to have the forgiveness of Jesus placed upon us. We come here, forsaking the world and selling all that the world is to us, in order to gather around the lecturn and pulpit to hear treasures new and old proclaimed. Hearing the Old Testament proclaimed in a Christ-centered way brings life to the hearers of the message. Hearing the words of Jesus in the Gospel and the epistles of the New Testament transform us, as we are forgiven.
For in the hearing of the Scriptures, we behold God’s glorious way of salvation for sinners (his oikonomia “economy of salvation”). In fact, we get to catch a glimpse of the majesty and glory of God. For in the Scriptures, God is made known to us. He who created the world has revealed Himself to us, and it is through the man and the face of Jesus Christ. If you want to know forgiveness, look for the treasure of Jesus. If you want to know love, mercy, understanding, freedom, peace, joy--then behold the proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified for you. Amen.