October 09, 2011
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; without a parable he told them nothing. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth to speak in parables; I will proclaim what has been hidden from the foundation of the world.”
“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. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” (Matthew 13:31-35, 44-52)
Reading from Swedenborg
When we love the Lord and love our neighbor we are not going to feel much of an open delight about them while we live in this world. What we will have instead is a general kind of blessing that can hardly be described because it is there deep down in our being and covered over by physical things and dulled by the cares of such a life. However, after we die everything changes. That obscure delight and that almost imperceptible blessing of loving the Lord and loving our neighbor come right out into the open in every way, and what was hidden and unrecognized becomes our whole sensation, as it were, because it was the delight of our spirit and we are now in our spirit. (Heaven and Hell 401)
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)
There are times when I can get very dismal about this life that you and I are in at the moment. These backs of ours, which used to let us run like the wind and take two stairs at a time, now ache if we’re in one position for too long. Our minds, which used to catch every thought like a butterfly, can’t work out why we went into the kitchen for something—what on earth was it? Our dear friends are dwindling one by one, like a fire going out, and you have to get up on Thursdays but you’re not sure what for. You know what I mean. Dismal stuff! Somebody once described the situation as being like a wet Sunday afternoon in Manchester.
However, I must not depress you. After all, as they say, “It’s all about attitude.” Always look on the bright side of life. There is always someone worse off than yourself, of course. This is true, but somehow, even though we snatch eagerly at that idea as a tonic, it doesn’t help. It only makes things worse, because if that’s the case, someone else is copping it more than I am, and that’s just too awful to contemplate.
Something is obviously missing in this morbid view of things. What on earth is it? I can’t find it physically and I can’t find it by telling myself to pull my socks up. And yet, there’s something there, I know. I know because I can occasionally feel it’s there, but I couldn’t tell you what it is to save my life. I can just about describe what it is like—it’s like a breeze that almost isn’t there, but it is; it’s like something stirring deep down or even a kind of yearning. It comes and goes so quickly!
Oh, here’s what it is. If you watch one of those really good BBC dramas on television, like Vanity Fair or Cranford, and the young man falls in love with the bullying mayor’s pretty daughter and they manage to have two minutes alone to blush and falter, that’s it. That’s absolutely it! You could cry, it’s so beautiful. You feel your whole life has been worth it just to witness those two lovers in those two minutes because what they are is what life is and can be. And then the credits roll and you’ll just have to wait a whole miserable but wonderful week for the next part.
And here’s what it is again. Someone is telling you about this and that, and right in the middle of a sentence they come out with an absolute gem of a thought. Perhaps they say, “You know, some things are best left undisturbed . . . ,” and they move on to more stuff, but you don’t move on with them. This “undisturbed” image hits you like a bullet, and it seems to connect with a lot of where you are in yourself. Maybe you are disturbing a lot at the moment and it would be better to leave well enough alone, and someone mentioned it and it all got clear.
OK. You have your own versions of this phenomenon, of course, but it is like finding treasure. That is actually the big biblical word for it—treasure. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden”— notice that, hidden!—“in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy”—notice that, too!—“for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
What I would urge you to observe immediately are the huge dynamics in that one little verse. Let’s just spell them out to be absolutely sure. “The kingdom of heaven,” Jesus calls it. The kingdom of heaven is a grasp of life, of existence, in which everything is right, full, perfect, and as it should be because it is exactly that. There are no discrepancies, no ifs and buts, no dampeners. And this kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. That’s just magnificent. On the surface, life looks like a pretty dull, plain, ordinary ploughed field, and there you are, walking over it with your wellingtons on because it’s been raining and it’s muddy and you’re clumping around on a wet Sunday afternoon not far outside of Manchester and all the while, unknown to you, there is treasure hidden in this ghastly field.
Let’s keep going, though. Just as you are wishing you weren’t there because it’s raining again, you dislodge this clod and you notice a bit of white underneath. A corner . . . an edge . . . what is this? Down you go in the teeming rain, which suddenly doesn’t matter very much, and you unearth this small white box, which strangely doesn’t have one speck of mud on it. You open it up and gaze in astonishment at what’s inside. Now, I’m not going to tell you what’s inside; that’s for you to see for yourself. I’m just going to let the credits roll on the image and suggest that while what you see is utterly fabulous and of untold wealth, it is not gold, nor silver, nor diamonds. It’s something else. I will leave you gazing at it.
Episode Two. The Acquisition. There you are, gazing into the box. What will you do? You know very well that if this were a stash of hundred-dollar bills, we wouldn’t see you for dust. Finders keepers! But it isn’t. And you have found it, seen it, desired it, this treasure, but it isn’t yours. It is just there, in someone else’s field, of course. In its own way it is obviously there for anyone who comes across it, because we all tramp across the muddy paddocks of life. So, decision made, you act. You put it back where you found it, and quickly replace the clod. No one else knows it, but you know that this ordinary field is still ordinary yet now plus treasure. This field is unbelievably different from what it seemed to be when you first set a squelchy foot on it. It will never be the same again, as far as you are concerned.
I’m sure you are following all this BBC drama, but it’s probably important just to take stock for a moment before we reach the climax. Jesus told seven parables of the kingdom in this same chapter, and after two of them—two of the bigger ones, the Sower and the Wheat and Tares—he explained what everything meant to his disciples, who may have been left guessing. He said, “The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, and the tares are the sons of the wicked one” (Matthew 13:38). You are certainly not left guessing with that approach!
So, while Jesus didn’t do that for the parable about the treasure hidden in a field, let’s have a go. The field is the world, or, if you like, it’s what the world or life often looks like to us. You need your wellingtons. The treasure hidden in the field is the sense, the discovery, that there is a meaning and purpose to this life, but you didn’t know about it until you came across it.
Oh, I left something out. The man is you, of course, but more specifically it’s the deeper part of you that has always thought that there is more to life than meets the eye, which is why you are traipsing across the field in the first place rather than going round it so as not to get muddy.
Now here’s the really important bit. The decision to rebury the treasure back where you found it and not take it away with you is the critical point: the treasure belongs in the field and must stay right there. Nobody dropped it or left it. It has always been there in the field. Once you didn’t know that, but now you do know that. This field has its own buried treasure.
That explanation makes the rest of the parable really easy. Full of joy, the man goes off and sells all that he has and buys that field. The only thing that matters is getting that field, even though that field is such a muddy squelchy mess. His friends probably think he’s crazy. But we know better. He sells his wellingtons and his weekly train pass to Manchester, but he also sells so much more—his gloom and pessimism, his diary of woes and life’s unanswerable questions—and he puts all the things he has acquired over the years that he thought would do the trick and make him content—his signed cricket bat, his entire Frank Sinatra CD collection—he puts them all on eBay and just gets rid of everything.
And would you believe it? He has just the exact amount of money needed to buy that field. No more, no less. That’s actually all he has. He buys the field and pays up, and so now all he has is this field, but his joy is unspeakable. He owns the field. Or perhaps we should say he has “owned” the field in which he knows the treasure lies, unseen but for sure.
We don’t have to die before this can happen to us. We just have to sell all that we have so as to own that field. Amen.
O God, emptied of all but love,
Humbled, vulnerable, self-giving, selfless,
Give us such courage that we may risk ourselves;
Give us such strength that self may be weakened;
Give us such confidence that self may be given;
Give us such love that self may be found;
Give us such joy that we may be lost
In wonder, love, and praise.
- Mark Wakelin
Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, who
has given us not only eyes to see, but minds to
understand, the marvels of your works; to search out
your secrets, and to discover your hidden treasures:
quicken our conscience, we pray, as you enlighten our
understanding; and grant that in heart as in mind
we become daily more perfect; even as our Father in
heaven is perfect; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
- from Daily Prayer, 1941
Eternal God, you are a deep sea,
into which the more I enter the more I find,
and the more I find the more I seek.
My soul hungers in the mystery of your depth
and longs to see you in and through your own light;
as the deer yearns for clear spring water
so my soul yearns for your truth.
- adapted from St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
Rev. Julian Duckworth