Scripture Matthew 13:44 (Today’s English Version)
“The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man happens to find a treasure hidden in a field. He covers it up again, and is so happy that he goes and sells everything he has, and then goes back and buys that field.”
Message “Treasure” Pastor James Renfrew
In this short reading from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells a story about finding a buried treasure in a field, and how discovering it changes everything!
Have you ever come across buried treasure? Maybe you have found an actual treasure chest like this one? What might be inside of it? Gold coins, diamonds, rubies and sapphires?
Unfortunately, this treasure chest had no actual treasure in it like that. It belonged to my mother, and when went she went away to school for the first time as a teenager she filled it with her clothes, some of her favorite things, and probably a copy of the “The Secret Garden”, her favorite childhood book. So no rubies, sapphires or gold coins, but when I finally got to open it there were still treasures to be found, some of her old dolls from when she had been a young girl. I think treasures like that are far more valuable, because they represent the joys of her childhood and the family that loved her.
“The Secret Garden”. In our home we have lots of books for children. There are the simple ones for young readers, like “Goodnight, Moon” and “The Cat in the Hat”, but we now have what we call chapter books. Something that will take many days to complete. Harry Potter, Little Women and others. There’s nothing better than a chapter book, because the enjoyment lasts and lasts.
One of the first chapter books I remember reading was “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s a book about a young boy, buried treasure, tall-masted ships and pirates, including one-legged Long John Silver. The story was turned into a movie around that time, and Long John Silver was a terrifying pirate. Of course, when there’s buried treasure it helps to have a map, and in Treasure Island there was one, with a big treasure marked at the center of the map with a big black X. “X” marks the spot.
Most treasures are not marked with an “X” on a map. Usually you stumble across them by luck, or you discover the value of something you’ve always had that was in plain sight. “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS involves people bringing items that have kicked around the house for generations, but when a professional antique dealer gives it an assessment, that dusty old painting is actually worth one hundred thousand dollars, that old doll is one of a kind and worth more than your house, great-grandpa’s fiddle is so valuable that you can send all the grandchildren to college.
There was an episode of the “X Files”, a TV show that used to be on the air, and each week agents Scully and Mulder would investigate unexplainable paranormal mysteries. I remember one episode about solving a mystery where Agent Mulder says that in real life there is never an “X” marking the spot, but in exploring an ancient cathedral in Rome, they find a hidden door, which of course is actually marked with an “X”. It was a humorous moment in an otherwise serious program. Because, in reality, there’s never an “X” to mark the spot.
So Back to Jesus’ story. A man discovers a treasure hidden in a field! Wow, what good fortune!. Some people have speculated that in war-torn ancient Israel, with armies from Egypt, Persia, and Rome routinely ravaging the land and people, when rumors of invasion began to spread, people would take their valuables, maybe some coins or jewelry, put them in a clay pot and bury it in a field, keeping these valuables safe until the marauding army had passed through. But if the invaders killed the people who had buried that treasure pot no one would know where it was, and then generations later a tenant farmer plowing the field might find that pot. It sounds like the farmer didn’t own that land, and according to the laws of those times, the buried pot of treasure would go the land owner, so the tenant farmer bought the land to secure his ownership of the treasure. Now he’s set for life; a rich man.
There was a musical comedy from 1936 that left us with the well-known phrase “You Can’t Take it With You”. I’ve never seen the show, but based on the short description it’s about people deviously trying to obtain great wealth, and I suppose that the meaning of the show is that when you die all your wealth and possessions will be meaningless.
It doesn’t much thought to realize that the treasure described by Jesus is not gold or jewels, it is something else. What could it be? What treasure, if you found it, could you take with you?
So what is the treasure Jesus is talking about? I remember a boy named Tony who whenever I asked a question in my children’s message, would always answer “Jesus”. Who was born on Christmas? Jesus! Who fed the hungry crowd? Jesus! What color is the sky? Jesus! Do you have flowers planted around your house? Jesus! But Tony was right in one important way. What is the treasure of your life? Jesus! That’s right, the treasure in the parable is the Gospel, the life and message of Jesus, his love, healing, justice and peace. That was the treasure Tony needed most of all.
It’s a different kind of treasure, this Jesus. You can’t put him in a pot and bury him in the ground. You can’t deposit him in your bank account. You can’t spend him at the store. The only thing you can really do with this Jesus treasure you have discovered is to give it away, give Jesus away, to the people around you. You can’t take this treasure with you, because the treasure only has value when you give it away. Just like the song I learned in Sunday School long ago, The Magic Penny, “you only have love if you give it away.”
Discovering the treasure of Jesus changes everything. That’s what Jesus is trying to tell you.