Carrying it Too Far
In my family "carrying it too far" became a proverbial saying. One child would make a funny statement, another would build on that, and the third who tired was always "carrying it too far." Carrying it too far is the nature of parables. In order to bring heavenly realities into earthly life, Jesus carries it too far.
The "all's" have it. Notice the preponderance of "all's" in these parables. The man who finds the treasure in the field sells all to buy that field. The merchant looking for fine pearls sold everything to buy the pearl of great value. The net let down into the sea catches all kinds of fish. All things about these parables are understood by all those being discipled in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus doesn't say some or most, but carries it too far and talks about selling all to buy one thing; catching all kinds of people, and how all discipled by the kingdom understand all things about it.
Remember the subject here: the kingdom of heaven. These 3 parables are all about heaven. Who doesn't want to know more, all they can about heaven? Contrary to a 1943 and 1978 movie named "Heaven can Wait" it can't. Jesus is speaking these 3 parables to His disciples apart from the crowds, and His disciples are no different than you. They are up to their armpits in the world they live in. They are concerned with politics. The declining state of youth. What's happening with prices, taxes, wages, the present and the future. Yet Jesus takes them away from all of that to tell them what the kingdom of the heaven is like, and He carries it too far.
Jesus doesn't say the kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasurer. No, He carries it too far and says it's like a treasurer forever hidden. Yet, this forever hidden treasure is found, and then it's hidden again. First, the fact that what was forever hidden is found is over the top. Then re-hiding what you find, so it can't be dug up by whoever hid it or so you can find it again, makes sense, but it brings up an ethical question. If inspecting a 1,000-dollar car, you find a 5,000-dollar Rolex in the trunk, can you put it in the wheel well and buy the car? Don't go here. If you do, you miss the carrying it too far nature of the parable. A man finds what can't be found; re-hides it; sells all he has to buy the entire field. He buys all just to have it.
Three times Jesus says: "The kingdom of heaven is like" so keep your eyes on that. Don't drift down or fall out of the heavenly realm to fallen man's default setting of what am I to do? Let this be about what Jesus plainly says it is. The kingdom of heaven is like a discriminating pearl merchant. Notice, he is first described as looking for fine pearls, plural. He expects that he will find more than one pearl, but instead he finds one of such great value to him that is worth all he has.
When Powerball came to Louisiana in 1995, I remember reading about a guy who mortgaged his 14,000-dollar house to buy tickets. He didn't win. Watch Antiques Road Show episodes from 15 years earlier. They show the value given in 2002 and the value today. How many times do they play the sad sound indicating the object lost value? My point is that Jesus is carrying it too far to have the kingdom of heaven portrayed as an expert in pearls who knows there are many fine pearls selling everything he has to buy just one. That's what an uneducated Cajun does; that's what an amateur antiquer would do, but that's what the kingdom of heaven is like.
The kingdom of heaven is like a very discriminating pearl merchant, but even this isn't carried far enough for Jesus. He says not only is the kingdom of heaven like a discriminating pearl merchant, it's like an indiscriminate net. This isn't a net like you or I are apt to use. This is the word for a dragnet as opposed to a casting net. It would be dragged toward shore by 2 boats a distance apart, maybe as much as a half-mile away from each other (Trench, Parables, 141). Weighted down to the bottom nothing escapes a net like this. The good, the bad, the ugly all get caught up. See if you can find a pre-1988 video of commercial fishing for red fish. These massive nets were banned in 1988 because only 2% of fish could get away from them. Watch and you'll see the point Jesus is emphasizing about the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus is the speaker of the parables, but do you see Jesus? You do know the Parable of Sower is not a "how to" on planting seed? You know that the Parable of the Lost Sheep is not DIY instructional on finding sheep, right? So, the Parable of Hidden Treasure, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Dragnet, are not respectively about how to find treasures, pearls, or catch fish. They got to be about Jesus because all Scripture is all about Him. The written Word testifies to the incarnate Word. Like the Greeks in John 12: We would see Jesus, but where?
Well, who did both sell all and forever sells all? The treasure that was forever hidden is bought by One decisively selling all, but the pearl of great price is bought by One who forever sells all. There is also a difference in the buying. The hidden treasure is bought in the present tense. "He sells all whatsoever he has and buys that field." As for the pearl, "He forever sells all things whatsoever he has and he bought it."
Do you see both aspects? When God the Son took on flesh and blood in the Virgin's Womb, He did the equivalent of burning His boats. There was no going back. There was no putting off the flesh and blood. You know how in Star Trek the disembodied alien takes up residence in a human only to find it too cramped, too limiting, too disgusting? The alien gets out. Jesus couldn't. He sells all and sold everything permanently.
Yes, Jesus is the One who did sell decisively everything once and for and forever. Though God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Jesus did not think equality with God was a thing to be grasped, but "sold" those possessions to live in a humble way on earth. He sold His right to fully use His powers as the King of Heaven, so He could live in your place in the mire and mud of a fallen world. He sold all those possessions so He could take on all your responsibilities. He took on Himself all your do's, don'ts, should's and ought's. He took on everything God required in the Law of humanity.
You know how you feel sometimes, rightly so I might add, that you can't turn around without breaking one of God's commandments? That's reality. That's the truth. God has commanded a way for you to act, speak, and think in every situation, all the time, and the only ones who get into heaven are those who do, talk, and think that way 24/7. That's what God Himself says: "Be ye holy for I am holy." So, all you people who have as your goal to be just a little better day by day are toast. You haven't carried the Law far enough.
So, now we know who does the selling. Who does the buying? Who gave His life as a ransom? Who gave His body and shed His blood as redeeming sacrifice not only for your sins but the sins of the whole world? In Gethsemane who demanded that Sin, Death, and Devil let His cowardly disciples go? Jesus is the One who bought on Good Friday and buys today.
Be careful here. There is only one sacrifice for sin; there is only one sacrifice that satisfied God's wrath against fallen humanity, and that was one and done on the cross. There is not an ongoing payment for sins. The redemption of humanity is not on a payment plan. However, you don't want to think it's too late for you. You haven't missed being purchased by Jesus' holy life and innocent death. Jesus did keep in your place all the Commandments that you can't even if you have denied His payment right to this very moment.
In the 60s and 70s there were stories of Japanese soldiers on remote Pacific islands who came out of the jungle to surrender. Some had finally come to terms with the fact Japan lost; others reportedly did not know the war was over. The point being is that that the war really was over; there was peace between Japan and the U.S., even if that solider didn't believe it or know it. See how this is carrying it too far? Jesus didn't just purchase and win some, or most, or believers, or Lutherans with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. He purchased and won all. Come out of that jungle where the mud of sins is caked on you; the vines of Satan entangle you, and Death sleeps close by every night.
You're not carrying this far enough unless you see who the owner of the house is. Who is the One who doesn't throw anything away? Who is unlike the fisherman who I'll translate the word the same way who cast the worthless away? Who is unlike the angels at the end of the age who cast the wicked into hell forever? Who is the One who casts out of His (literally) treasure new and old? And the word treasure' brings us back to the first parable.
Whenever I clean my garage which is seldom to never, I run up against the same foreboding things. I have tools from my dad that I don't know how to use. I have wooden fishing lures from both grandfathers. I have things that I have moved from Indiana, to Texas, to Michigan, to Louisiana, to Texas and never used, but I can't bear to throw them away. My things are mostly junk things. But Jesus carries it too far. He knows of no junk in His garage. He treasurers all that He has redeemed. And who is that? All.
You want to really carry this too far? Look at your bulletin cover. I'm no artist, but that's a coffin on the front. And this is the artwork the artist drew for this text. The treasure hidden in the field is a coffin! Who but the Lord who swallowed Death can find new things in an old coffin? Who but the Lord of life would sell everything to buy a dead thing? Who but the Lord who wishes to carry the whole world to heaven would carry things this far? Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20170813); Matthew 13:44-52