University Congregational Church
July 16, 2017
“Re-Imagine the World: Hidden Treasure Parable”
In November of 1992, a farmer near Suffolk, England, lost a hammer. He felt he had lost it somewhere in the fields of his farm; so after an unsuccessful search, he asked a friend who owned a metal detector for some help.
The search with the metal detector uncovered some silver tableware—and some ancient coins. So they notified the authorities, and an archaeological team came in to excavate the site.
When the excavation was complete, nearly 15,000 Roman coins from the fourth and fifth centuries had been recovered, along with silver tableware. The assessed value in 1993 was about 1.75 million pounds (approximately $3.5 million)! The value in today’s currency would be considerably more.
Discern Magazine, April 2014
If you won the lottery, or found something unexpectedly that was worth millions, what would you do?
Have you watched Antique Roadshow? Jinx Taylor inherited her father’s Jade collection. They were originally collected during his stay in China with the U.S. Army during the 1930’s and 40’s. The bowls were from the Qianlong period which dates back to 1735-1736. The collection included bowls and a statue of a mythical creature to ward off evil. The appraiser claimed the bowls were purchased at a time it was unlikely they cost more than $100 a piece. Today, that collection of Jade bowls is worth an estimated 1.07 million dollars!
I think one of the reasons we like to watch shows like this, and dream about winning the lottery, and having that proverbial rich uncle, is because it is a natural human tendency to hope for mysterious and valuable treasure. The idea of getting something for nothing is very tantalizing. The idea that some piece of junk in your attic is worth a fortune is just a thrill. Even finding bargains at discount stores is a popular pastime.
Burying treasure was not unusual in the ancient world. Remember, there were no safe banking systems in place. There wasn’t a Federal Deposit Insurance or safety deposit boxes. Most people had to trust whatever they had to a clay pot hidden in the yard or some other hiding place in the house. The Jewish historian Josephus reports that many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem buried their wealth during the siege of Jerusalem. That’s why, today, you can purchase a 2,000 year old coin on a nice chain or in a ring setting for about $50 US dollars. There are extensive numbers of ancient coins being found, even to this day.
This brings us to the parable of the hidden treasure. Remember that a parable is “thrown alongside” our daily experiences. And the purpose of our interest in them – at least this summer – is to imagine how Jesus envisioned the way things ought to be. The parables give us access to the possibility of how we might live.
When we reflect on the real intention of what Jesus was saying in these parables, we begin to appreciate that while a parable may come in a familiar, even friendly, format, its real purpose is not to entertain us, except in the sense of grabbing our attention, or indeed, simply to inform us, rather, it is to urge us as individuals to make a personal and life changing response.
The parable of the Hidden Treasure is a simple and short one. It is only one verse of the Bible…
Heaven’s imperial rule is like treasure hidden in a field:
When someone finds it,
That person covers it up again,
And out of sheer joy goes
And sells every last possession
And buys that field. Matt. 13:44
There is a lot we don’t know about this parable.
• We don’t know anything about the person who found the treasure. Is this a moral person? A poor person?
• We don’t know how the treasure got there or to whom it belongs. Is that person still alive and planning to come back for the treasure? Is this an abandoned treasure from another time long gone?
• We don’t know whether the person who found the treasure and then bought the land is buying it legally or not. What terms are in the purchase agreement about items of value?
• Was the hiding of the treasure and then the subsequent purchase of the land a moral or immoral ploy?
Brandon Scott, who wrote the book “Re-Imagine the World” on which our series is based, said that his parable is not about finding treasure. However, he asserts, finding treasure is about the empire of God. And finding this treasure changes life dramatically… it is as if a person found what it means to be whole and happy. It is as if a person finds God.
Recently, I spent some time with a young man who was very unhappy. He grumbled and complained about everything. …
– His life wasn’t fair because he didn’t have what he wanted
– He shouldn’t have gone to college because now he has debt
– His parents were not supportive of him
– His apartment wasn’t nice enough… in fact, he would be better off homeless
– His job wasn’t fulfilling
– His wife didn’t make enough
The litany went on and on. What he really wanted was to be independently wealthy. He just wanted to dream about what could be hoping that it would fall into his lap unexpectedly. If only this or that, he thought, then he would be happy. If he could just find that treasure that was buried in the field, or so he thought.
This morning, as I sat in my office, the doorbell rang. I saw from a distance that the person waiting at the door was a younger person. He was dark skinned and wearing a white undershirt and some shorts. I hate to admit that I hesitated slightly before walking to the door. I wondered what he needed and how much time he would take. When I opened the door, he said exuberantly, “Good morning!” I responded likewise. “I’m playing a basketball tournament across the street,” he continued, “so I won’t be at my church today. But I wanted to give an offering anyway.” He handed a folded up used envelope to me. And off he went, with a “Have a blessed day!” thrown over his shoulder. I opened the envelope and inside was two folded dollar bills.
Finding treasure is about the empire of God. And finding this treasure changes life dramatically… it is as if a person learns what it means to be whole and happy. It is as if a person finds God. When I opened that envelope this morning, I found a bit of holiness in it.
A parable is intended to hit us personally with a spiritual pay load capable of totally transforming our future. By speaking in parables, Jesus wasn’t aiming to warm our spiritual hearts with a cozy tale. He was, in fact, intending to rattle our cages so vigorously that we wake up to some eternal spiritual truth that could change us. The question for us is whether we will hear and then heed the message that the parables bring so that they can accomplish their purpose and transform our lives.
Two weeks ago, my friend and colleague, Robert Bull, died. He was in his early 60’s and had beaten leukemia. However, the treatment for leukemia had taken its toll and he was dying from a multitude of physical problems. He had been on Hospice for one week. The first time I saw him after he decided it was time to stop treatment, he greeted me with “I need a hug!” I hugged him while he pulled himself up from the bed. He said, “I love you.” And I told him how much he meant to me too. And then he said, “I don’t have any regrets. I married up and we’ve had a good 43 years together. We have two wonderful children and two grandchildren. I’ve had 2 careers that I have enjoyed and been challenged by. I have no regrets.”
Finding treasure is about the empire of God. And finding this treasure changes life dramatically… it is as if a person learns what it means to be whole and happy. It is as if a person finds God.
When you throw this parable alongside your life and you think about the treasures you have, do you find wholeness and holiness? Are you willing to sell everything you have to get it?
Johnson, Dave. Lifehopeandtruth.com
Patching, Barry. Soundfaith.com
Scott, Bernard Brandon. “Re-Imagine the World”. Polebridge Press. 2001.