The Parables of Jesus: Treasure in the Field 7-10-16

I have been enjoying digging deeper into Jesus’ parables this summer. I hope you are enjoying it with me. The task of paying attention to Jesus’ pithy transformational stories is a wonderful thing to do. Still, I almost thought about going back to the lectionary for today because of the shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in St. Paul, Minnesota and Dallas, Texas. The assigned reading for today would have been Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, which would have fit nicely to challenge us as religious people who might be tempted to walk on the other side of the road rather than pay attention. Well, I had just told my wife that I didn’t see how this little parable of a treasure hidden in a field could possibly speak to the current situation, when it hit me how it could. So let’s take up the challenge. Listen for the Word of God for you today in this brief story from Master Storyteller Jesus:

Matthew 13:44-46 “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; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, she went and sold all that she had and bought it.

July 10, 2016

The Parables of Jesus: Treasure in the Field

What word of hope can we find in the parables of Jesus after this very tough week? What word of hope, faith and love can we find that could possibly address our needs in the face of the horrendous news coming out of Baton Rouge and St. Paul, and Dallas – the killing of Alton Sterling at the hands of police in Baton Rouge, the killing of Philando Castile at a routine traffic stop in Minnesota, the killing of Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa, police officers killed by a sniper in Dallas, Texas?

Let me first say that we can’t select whom we are going to mourn today. These killings are connected – not directly, but interconnected in our prayers and in our mourning. These killings are connected in the web of violence in our country. None of these men deserved to die. Mentioning just the two Black men killed or just the White police officers today would be to indicate that there are sides to take in these tragedies and there is only one side to take – the side of tears, the side of peace, the side of love, the side of justice, the side of God.

I fear for this country that I love as I see people being divided and feeling like they have to choose one side or another. It’s a bad idea. We choose the side of all of these children of God, all of them.

 

The kin-dom of God is like a treasure in a field, like a pearl of great price. The treasure, the pearl, is this peace of God that passes all understanding. The treasure is the love that unites us, the lives of all of us living in a new realm, a new kin-dom of God’s presence.

As I meditated on this passage this week, after I told my wife I needed to use a different passage, the insight that came to me was that what I wanted to talk about today is the cost of that treasure, the price of the pearl. Jesus says that the person who finds the treasure, obviously some worker in the field, goes to sell everything they have to buy that field and get the treasure. The person who finds the pearl sells everything she has to acquire the pearl.

If we put ourselves in that role of the person desiring the treasure, desiring the pearl – the kin-dom of God, this new realm of peace and co-existence, we are going to have to be willing to give up some things. The parable says we may have to give up everything we have for the treasure, for the pearl which is worth it.

 

Here’s how I make sense of that statement. I don’t know about you, but I start getting a little bit nervous when someone starts to challenge me to give up everything I have – even if it’s Jesus. I kinda like what I have, my family, my house, my church. I don’t want to give up everything for this treasure.

When I think about a treasure that’s big enough though, a treasure of God’s realm among us, God’s love made manifest in our lives, God’s peace – I can imagine giving up a lot for that. I just want it to be a sure thing. That’s part of the twist of this passage. It’s a risk to get the treasure. It’s a risk to get the pearl – to give up everything you have.

So let me suggest what we might need to give up to get the treasure, to receive the pearl of great price. Because we people of privilege are going to have to give up some things in order to receive this treasure, this kin-dom. Luckily, most of what we have to give up will benefit us greatly. We will be really glad if we give it up. It’s just that giving it up at first feels like giving up all we have and all we are.

First of all, we have to give up our isolation. We may need to challenge ourselves if we are tempted to choose sides between “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” to learn about why in this moment it’s critically important to stand up for Black lives in particular, why in this moment it’s critically important to stand up for the lives of police in harm’s way. Those two stances don’t have to contradict each other.

In this polarized time, we want to be working for peace without attacking, without demonizing. We particularly need to stand in solidarity with people who are under attack. When gay people, Black people, women, Muslims, police are being attacked it is essential that people of other groups—straight people, white people, men, non-Muslims, everyday citizens —stand in solidarity with them.

They can’t be left to face the bigotry and violence alone. They need to know they can count on people who are not being targeted to stand with them, to help defend them. In 1993, in Billings, Montana, a white supremacist threw a cinder block through a Jewish family’s window because they were displaying a menorah. In response, thousands of non-Jewish residents began displaying menorahs in their own windows. At first the vandalism intensified, but the act of solidarity continued, and in the end the violence and intimidation ceased. (Patricia Pierce, “Three Ways to be a Peacemaker in a Time of Hatred”)

Wouldn’t you hope you would be one of the non-Jewish residents who would display a menorah? Surely, by living that way, even if it feels like we are risking our lives, risking what we have, we are living toward the treasure of God’s kin-dom, and helping to create that kin-dom.

In the demonstrations in St. Louis after Michael Brown was killed, African American demonstrators stood hand in hand in lines in front of the police to keep them from being attacked by young people throwing stones or hurling epithets in their anger over that killing. They were practicing for the kin-dom.

Secondly, we as a society have to give up our denial. Again, this might feel like giving up who we are or giving up everything we have – to change our defensive sense that we have it all right and we don’t have to change. Our police need to have training As Jesse Williams said on the BET awards show 2 weeks ago, “we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday.” That same skill just needs to apply to Black people as well. Anti-racism groups know a lot about why our society is in denial about our biases and racism. These trainers and activists are growing in their ability to help groups and individuals face into their prejudice. They have a key to the treasure if we will only let go of our denial that we want the key, that the treasure is worth the price.

 

Thirdly and finally today, Patricia Pierce, a local pastor and author, suggests that we have to give up our terror and hatred even of the perpetrators of violence and hatred – for instance, to be able to let go of our fear and hatred of leaders of the Ku Klux Klan or whatever other group you blame for the ills of society. This doesn’t mean we support what they stand for, but care for them as human beings so that they can get over their hatred of themselves, because that’s what fuels their hatred of others. Rev. Pierce suggests that we practice by give up beating up ourselves, give up our own self doubts and self judgment.

 

To conclude, if the treasure buried in the field is the kin-dom of God, if this pearl of great price has captured our attention enough for us to be willing to take a risk to give up some things that feel essential to who we are, we actually can give up some things which are not serving us all that well anyway – our isolation, our fear, and our denial. For those of us who are white, these sacrifices are crucial to us giving up our racism. It is a real risk, because a lot of people are not giving up their isolation, fear and denial, and that makes life dangerous in the growing kin-dom of God, but the risk is worth it, to find the kin-dom of heaven in our midst.

And the truth is we are not the ones building that kin-dom after all. God loves us as we are, and God’s love is always nudging us toward living in community, free of fear, with honesty and integrity. God’s love frees us from our fear and hatred, our loneliness, and our denial. God’s love is the ultimate hope for our future – in the kin-dom.

This is God’s good news.

Responsive Hymn: 2171    Make Me a Channel of Your Peace