The disciples came up and asked, "Why do you tell stories?" He replied, "You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn't been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That's why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they're blue in the face and not get it. I don't want Isaiah's forecast repeated all over again: 'Your ears are open but you don't hear a thing. Your eyes are awake but you don't see a thing. The people are blockheads! They stick their fingers in their ears so they won't have to listen; They screw their eyes shut so they won't have to look, so they won't have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them.' But you have God-blessed eyes—eyes that see! And God-blessed ears—ears that hear! A lot of people, prophets and humble believers among them, would have given anything to see what you are seeing, to hear what you are hearing, but never had the chance ... God's kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field." (Matthew 13:10-17 & 44, The Message)
My good friend and fellow recovering Pharisee Dan Parsons takes over this installment; I'm just the editor. Dan approached me about doing this and I readily agreed. The theme goes along well with the last entry and is a message we all need to hear repeatedly. As you consider this entry, he asks that you look up (or listen to) the lyrics to Finger Eleven's One Thing. I won't include the entire song, but the chorus starts out like this:
If I traded it all
If I gave it all away for one thing
Just for one thing
If I sorted it out
If I knew all about this one thing
Wouldn't that be something?
We love the story in a good book or movie. This is largely the reason Jesus taught in stories and parables so much during his ministry on Earth. You might also consider that the Bible, when looked at end-to-end, is mostly given in narrative form. If you close your eyes, you might imagine the "movie" that the passage from Matthew creates.
Our trespasser is running … perhaps even to save his life. He's young and maybe fleeing the results of some natural disaster. Think of the pictures and news footage you've seen from Haiti this past week after the earthquake. He turns down a dirt road and begins running through a large field of lush vegetation. The field lies on the outskirts of a small village and runs up a rocky slope near the far corner. The young man heads for the rock outcropping and some cover. He is, after all, an outsider and a trespasser in this field. The village elders might not be happy to see an intruder.
As he stops among the rocks to catch his breath and consider his next route, he sees something shiny reflecting the mid-day sun overhead. He stoops to pick up the object and it turns out to be a coin. And not just any coin, but a gold sovereign – more money than he has seen in a long time. He chances to look down and sees another one, half buried in the dirt. He digs around to find a third and then a fourth. His hear races as he considers what this could mean. He pockets the coins and risks slipping into the village to find a shovel or some other tool with which to dig and explore.
Finding a shovel, he steals back to his spot and begins to dig. Before long, his efforts uncover several bags of sovereigns … a veritable treasure of gold! He quickly formulates a plan, covers his dig, and heads for his family's house. With the four gold coins backing his story, he convinces his father, brother, and uncle to join him in returning to the village. The formulate a painstaking plan to migrate there, hire on as laborers in that very field, and scrimp and save until they can buy at least that far corner with the rock outcropping. The promise of treasure makes the sacrifice of the present worthwhile.
The scenes could continue, but we'll leave it there for now. Jesus' listeners might have imagined some similar story when the parable in Matthew was first heard. After all, who wouldn't do everything in his power to gain such a treasure for himself? But as usual, the listeners missed the most important point of the parable. The treasure of the Messiah was standing right in front of them and they couldn't even recognize Him. They just took Him for granted as a rabbi who told pleasant stories. And they ultimately treated Him just like any other trespasser.
Sadly, our track record today isn't much better. We hold the Gospel in our grasp and take it for granted. We are God's treasure for whom He gave up Jesus, and yet we struggle with petty disagreements. As we travel the Crooked Path, may we loudly proclaim the treasure of the Gospel and of the One who gave it all up for one thing … me!
- Are you ready to trade it all away, or do you value something else more?
- Like the young man in the story, will you ignore the "No Trespassing" sign to risk finding and proclaiming the greatest treasure?
- Are you willing to give it all up and spread the Gospel in its purest form, not just some set of rules and regulations?