Sunday, August 02, 2009

Mt 13.44-52 – You are God’s Treasure

[Last month I started sending out a newsletter to the group of folks at church to whom I have been assigned as an elder. I call it "Elder-ly Meditations." Below is the meditation I sent out this month -- based on a blog entry I posted a while back.]


So often it seems that the picture Christians have of God is that of a grim, disapproving father who deigns to save us in spite of the disappointment he feels toward humanity. To be sure, he loves us even though he disapproves of us, and so he goes to the cross to save us. Yet in the background we think we hear the complaint, “I do and I do for you kids, and this is the thanks that I get.”

The parable of the prodigal son is certainly an antidote to this common misperception of God’s attitude toward us. And so are the “kingdom parables” in Mt 13.44-52. (They’re called “kingdom parables” because Jesus begins each one with the words, “the kingdom of heaven is like . . .”)

The thing is, however, that Christians have traditionally misread the kingdom parables and so have misapplied by thinking that they are supposed to describe our experience rather than God's experience.

These parables are well known. So well known that I was a bit surprised to discover that the traditional understanding of the passage – which was the way that I understood the passage – is almost certainly wrong.

Let’s first read what Jesus said:

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon find one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

"And, again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind . . . So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous . . ."

Now the question concerns “who” Jesus speaks of when describing the man who finds the hidden treasure in the field and buys it, the merchant who finds the pearl of great value, and the fisherman.

The traditional view is that the man who finds the hidden treasure is the Christian believer. We discover the kingdom of God, and it is so precious to us that we give all that we have to obtain it.
I've been wont to take the field-buyer and the merchant as speaking of the believer, in a "count-the-cost" sort of admonition. I believe that this is the traditional and popular view on the passage.

There is, of course, nothing at all wrong with that attitude, indeed, we should all have it. But as commendable as the attitude might be, it’s not what the passage is about.

A conference paper I read last year by a faculty member at Concordia Seminary (I forget who the professor was), made a simple and compelling argument that the traditional take on the passage has it wrong.

The argument begins with the claim that Jesus speaks of the same thing in each of the parables. That seems pretty obvious.

Now consider the last of the three kingdom parables – the one about the fisherman and the fish.

Let’s read it again:

"And, again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea, and gathering fish of every kind . . . So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous . . ."

In that case, it's obvious that the fish are believers (and nonbelievers) and the fisherman is Jesus at the end of the age. It’s really obvious.

But remember now that the fish parable is just providing a different take on the same theme from the earlier two parables.

But that means that the first two kingdom parables are descriptions of Jesus’ attitude toward the people he saves, not the attitude of Christians toward the Kingdom of God. That is, what the parables describe is the joy he has over the kingdom, and his willingness to suffer loss of all things in order to establish it.

Let’s read the first two again through this lens:

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon find one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

So these parables, rather than being about "us," are about Jesus. And provide us illustrations of how it is that Jesus "who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame" (Heb 12.2).

The point is that Jesus rejoices over us. We are his treasure; we are his pearl of great price. God gives away everything on the Cross for his people, not because he disapproves of us, but because he loves us, and rejoices in saving us.

3 Comments:

Blogger Dave said...

I'd like to differ slightly with your take on the three parables. I believe them to be more relational.
The kingdom is like: like what?
a treasure
a merchant
a net

The treasure speaks of it's worth to those who discover it...it's worth everything we have and more to be a part of God's rule and reign

The merchant speaks of how God seeks us...the kingdom is like that too...The kingdom seeks as a merchant seeks great pearls, and Jesus gave all to purchase salvation for us.

The kingdom is also like a dragnet that encompasses all...good and bad... The kingdom of God is THE ONLY kingdom there is...it's that way too...and when the end has come, it's the reign of God that will sort the good fish from the bad ones.

They are not one story...that's NOT AT ALL obvious...but various facets of the way God's rule and reign, the kingdom, are and will be experienced.

Take care

October 09, 2009 8:54 AM  
Blogger watchingandwaiting said...

I like the original take by the elder. just a few days ago I began seeing it his way --- would HE die for us if we were not treasures in his sight?

October 27, 2010 11:25 AM  
Blogger Chidi said...

I this is a very rich passage that will be impoverished if we take a lopsided view. I think both ways can go.

July 19, 2011 5:03 AM  

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