I Wanna Talk about Him
Thirteen years ago Toby Keith had a delightful ditty about how his girl liked to talk about herself which was fine, but occasionally he wanted to talk about him. I don't want to talk about him, Toby Keith, but Him Jesus Christ. With our text, however, it's easier to talk about me or you.
Take the first parable. From the joy of finding our salvation, comes the eagerness to sell all that we have to get it. We sing like that sometimes. "Here I give myself away; it's all that I can do." Salvation "demands my soul, my life, my all." This text can be about us and how once we stumble upon the hidden treasure of the Gospel the joy leads us to selling all to bring it home.
Based on the second parable, we could emphasize our searching. The finding and selling all to get the treasure is the same as the first. But in this one I could picture us actively searching not just happening to find as in the first. We're actively searching for fine pearls, notice the plural. Yes, we foolishly think there is more than one fine pearl, more than one thing needful, more than one thing that can satisfy more than one salvation. But once we find the pearl of great price, once we find Jesus, our search is over. So keep on searching till you find Him.
Even the last parable can be about us. Aren't we fishers of men? Aren't we the ones dragging the net? Can't this be about us being sure to use the kingdom to fish? Jesus says it's the kingdom that does the catching. It's not the plans, programs, or piety of men that catch all kinds of fish. The kingdom of heaven is the net, so be sure that's what you're fishing with.
Yes, it's easier to talk about me and you than it is Jesus, and even Jesus talks about me and you in the end. At the end, the text makes a pointed turn in our direction. "'Have you understood all these things?' Jesus asked. Yes,' they replied."
It is very disciple-ish, very me-ish, maybe it's very you-ish to think you've understood something Jesus has said right off the bat. When Jesus warns them about the leaven of the Pharisees, they're sure He's chiding them for not taking bread rather than warning them of the false teaching of the Pharisees. When Jesus mentions swords in the upper room, they're sure He's talking about real swords. When Jesus is rejected by the Samaritans, James and John are sure He means that fire should be sent from heaven to destroy them.
My point is they think they understand these parables. Remember how after the Sower they had to ask Jesus what it meant? Remember they did the same after the parable of the Weeds? Remember how Jesus said those outside of the kingdom wouldn't understand them? What would you say then when, after telling you 3 short parables, Jesus asks do you understand them? I'm going to say yes, and my default setting for understanding anything is it's about me.
Jesus shows them and us how to tell if we understand. Even a teacher of the law, even a member of that group that was so opposed to Him, if he has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven even he has more treasure than he knows what to do with. He has treasure not only in the new things but especially the old. "Old" is the last word in the Greek sentence. That means Jesus emphasizes it. Yes, the one who "gets" these parables finds treasure in the same old, same old that he has been overlooking and taking for granted.
Ending the text this way ends this long teaching session with a question: Have I really understood all these things? It is Jesus' way to leave His hearers with a hanging question. What will the lawyer do who asks who is his neighbor and is told the parable of the Good Samaritan? What will the Pharisees who grumbled about Jesus receiving sinners do after hearing the Prodigal Son? What does Peter do after asking about how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him and is told the parable of the Unforgiving Servant? If we understand these parables we will find ourselves awash in treasure in places we never would've expected. Do we understand?
Not if we think they're about us. Yes, it's easier to talk about me and even you than it is Jesus, but this text must be about Him because every jot and tittle of Scripture is. Both the New and Old Testaments are about Jesus. This is a point that the Jewish teachers of the Law and even Christian Bible scholars don't get. They search and search the Scriptures never realizing that they're all about Jesus. No, we look for our joy, search for our pearls, and drag the net of kingdom around focused on me, myself, and I.
But Who really sold all for the sake of the treasurer that had been forever hidden in the field of the world? Don't forget that point. In last week's text, which is a part of this same teaching session, Jesus said the field is the world. And the treasurer was "forever hidden." This is one of two Greek perfects in the text. A perfect means that something has happened and the results of it go on forever.
Back to my first question. Who really sold all for the sake of a forever hidden treasure? God the Son gave up the full use of His divine power, glory, and rights to become incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary. For what? To buy a field, which is the world, wherein His treasure was forever buried. The treasure couldn't unbury itself; it couldn't do anything to be found. It was forever hidden.
There we were in the field of the world buried under Sin, Death, and the Devil, and Jesus says, "I'll take the whole world" like the antique dealer who buys the house for the sake of a Queen Anne chair. "I don't care what it cost: If it takes My soul, My life, My all, I'll pay it." So Jesus digs up the sins the world is buried under and carries them away. So Jesus offers His holy, divine life to Death in place of our sinful, fallen ones. And what can the Devil, the strong man guarding the plunder of souls, do? True the Law consigned all sinners over to him and to death. But Jesus broke the Devil's grip by perfectly fulfilling the Law and dying innocently under its judgments.
I wanna talk about Him, Jesus, Lord, Savior, Redeemer, and Friend. The One who finds the forever hidden treasure is the God/Man Jesus. And Jesus is also the merchant looking for fine pearls. See how the parables differ? If they were exactly parallel it would be as the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure so it would be like a fine pearl. But Jesus doesn't say that. He says, "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls."
In the first parable, Jesus is pictured slogging through the world and happens to find a treasure long buried that needs digging up. He both digs it up and buys it. In this parable, Jesus is actively seeking fine pearls, but finds only one. Here is where the second perfect comes in. The treasurer was forever hidden. In this parable the perfect is the merchant selling all. He forever sells all to buy that one pearl.
The incarnation of God the Son through the womb of the Virgin Mary is for keeps, for good, forever. Once having taken on this flesh and blood, God the Son never puts it off again. You can't think any bodiless creature be it angel, demon, Pure Energy, or Pure Thought are somehow superior to flesh and blood. God the Son deigned to cloth Himself with flesh and blood. Their fallenness and sinfulness is the problem not their flesh and blood-ness.
See the nuances in these parables. The first speaks of us as part of a bigger treasure hidden forever but found by Jesus. The second speaks of us as individuals. The focus of the church is often numbers, the many. The thousands being lost every minute. The millions of unreached souls. The focus of the Gospels is individuals. "Zacchaeus come down from that tree; I must stay in your house today," says Jesus from a street teeming with people. It's not the whole town of Shechem Jesus focuses on, but the lone woman at the well. It's Paul Jesus speaks to on the road to Damascus not any of the others on that road with him. It's one couple on the road to Emmaus Easter evening that Jesus chats up.
Yes, it's true you and I are part of the holy Christian Church that Jesus bought the whole world to get, but we're each also that one pearl. It's the plural pronouns that preach the largeness of the Gospel, but it's the singular ones that touch us. "I baptize thee," "I forgive thee." "Given and shed for you" require, says Luther, all hearts to believe. Especially yours.
Yes, believe if there was no other sinner in all the world, God the Son still would have come for just you. He would have lived a perfect life just for you. He would have willingly embraced the suffering, bleeding, and dying of the cross just for you and for your salvation. Yes, never forget as the Nicene Creed says that it was for all men and our salvation, but always live from it was for me and my salvation.
Finally, the kingdom of heaven is like a net, so that means the King of heaven is too. Jesus is the only net let down into the ocean of the world. The Gospel spreads an incredibly wide net. There is no sinner it doesn't wish to gather to forgiveness in Jesus; no damned soul it doesn't wish to catch in salvation for Jesus' sake; no dead body it doesn't wish to catch from the ocean of death for life in Jesus' name.
The net is wide open today for all. It hasn't been pulled up on shore yet, but it will one day. Then the separating starts, the righteous from the wicked. Jesus knows them that are His. He sees those who have been clothed by Him in Baptism. He knows those who have been absolved by Him because they bear the seal of His name. And He recognizes those communed by Him as sure as He recognizes His own body and blood.
There's a new treasure in these 2,000 year old parables. They're not about you or I searching, finding, buying, selling, or fishing but about Jesus. I wanna talk about Him and you most certainly want and need to hear about Him. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20140817); Matthew 13: 44-52