There's Something Here
There's a Seinfeld episode that revolves around people mumbling in response to something Jerry has said. He replies, "What did you say?" And they not wishing to have been heard say, "Nothing." Jerry then says, "I know you said something; I'm not sure what but I know it was something." Today's text contains 3 of the 7 parables Jesus told on one occasion. This time He's speaking only to us in the Church, but you can hear it as mumbling when He concludes by comparing those who have been instructed in the kingdom of heaven with a house owner who brings out new and old treasures. What's He talking about? I know there is something here, but I'm not sure what.
First there's something scary here. I don't know about you but I was totally unprepared for the last parable to end in hell. From the rather pleasant task of separating the good fish from the bad in your net, a task I've done many times, Jesus puts me on the edge of hell and shows me His angels throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace "where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." It's like Jonathon Edward's classic sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." That sermon leaves you teetering on the ledge of hell where the slightest nudge will send you tumbling into the flames.
You can intellectualize it all you want; you can spiritualize it all you want; you can pscyhologize it all you want, but the same Jesus who says "I baptize you;" "I absolve you;" "Take eat; take drink," says hell is a real place with real people weeping and gnashing their teeth forever. That's ultimately what all the parables are about - heaven and hell, eternal life and eternal death, the kingdom of everlasting bliss and the kingdom of everlasting suffering.
So Jesus perches us on the edge of hell's abyss and then immediately asks us, "Have you understood all these things?" Think back to where these parables began on August 7th. It wasn't the soil that the Word bounced off; it wasn't the soil that received the Word with joy; it wasn't the soil that listened to the Word and grew from it; it was only the soil that listened to the Word with understanding that produced faith, hope, love, joy, peace, and salvation. So, have you understood all these things? Have you understood the parables of the treasure, the pearl, and the net?
The disciples said, "Yes," can you? That's real scary right there, isn't it? Did these parables bounce off you? Did they thrill your heart only you have no idea why? Did you listen 3 years ago when we last covered them only to grow for a while and then stop? "Have you understood all these things?" Jesus asks as you stand on hell's brink watching the wicked being pushed in one by one screaming and crying as they fall into flames that always burn them but never burn them up.
There is something here and it's more than fear. There's something old here. Something you are familiar with and understand very well. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure that is worth buying the whole field it's buried in to get. Along with going to heaven comes the hatred of the world, suffering in the world, rejection by the world, ridicule by the world, but heaven's certainly worth it. Pain, sorrow, persecution here for a time rather than forever in a fiery furnace. Sure going to heaven means being a stranger here, means you're just passing through, means your fame, fortune, and reward aren't here, but you'll willing buy all that to be collected by the angels in the basket marked "Heaven."
There's something old and familiar here like that shirt you like to wear or slippers you like to put on. You've heard before that the kingdom of heaven is like pearl of great value worth selling everything, I mean everything to get. Going to heaven, staying out of those flames of hell, is worth any price, worth every last cent you have, worth, as we sing, your soul, your life, your all. Indeed what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and looses his own soul? So what if you were that Minnesota couple who won that 228.9 million Powerball jackpot and ended up crying your eyes out and gashing your teeth till your gums bled? You'd gladly forfeit such riches to be saved from that.
And the image of the kingdom of heaven being like a net let down that catches all kinds of fish is not new to you who've been around the church. You've seen many people come and go. You've heard many confirmands take sacred vows to be faithful to our faith till death and not even make it through 9th grade. You yourself have shared the gospel with someone and saw that gospel net gather them in like so many fish, but it turned out they weren't fish at all. It's not new to you that Jesus says not everyone caught by the kingdom of heaven on earth is a fish kept for eternity.
See? All this is old to you. You already knew the kingdom of heaven is worth buying all the good, bad, and ugly that goes with it. You already knew the kingdom is worth selling everything you have to get it whether it is money in the bank or sleep on Sunday morning. You already knew that at the end of the ages the kingdom net gets sorted through and some get torments for eternity. You knew all this. It's old hat, but though you might be not so scared, you're still bothered. That's because you have yet to bring out the new treasures from these parables.
There is something new here. Who is the One who is said to have loved the whole world? Who was willing to be a wrath removing sacrifice not only for the sins of the Church but for the whole world? Who went to the cross not just for disciples but for the ungodly, for God's enemies, for those who mocked, tortured, spat on and laughed at His Son right up till the end? So who is the One who actually bought all the sorrow, pain, shame, and persecution just to redeem you? The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field. Who is the One who brought the whole field to get the treasure? Not you. Not me. Jesus and only Jesus.
So what's the treasure or more aptly who is? You are. You're the lost sheep; you're the prodigal son; you're the buried treasure hidden under sin, filth, unbelief, misbelief, and other great shame and vice. You're the treasure that God the Son, the Perfect Man, was willing to wade through all manner of filth just to get to. More than that, He was willing to take responsibility for all the filth that we are guilty of just to buy us back from those flames of hell we were certainly heading for. Even though most of the field, which in an earlier parable Jesus said was the world, even though most of the world will be lost, pushed into hell at the end of the ages, Jesus willingly bore, bought, endured all the blood, sweat, and tears it deserved just to save you.
Hearing these parables as pointing to Jesus as the one who acts to get the treasure and the valuable pearl is something new to you, but it's in the text. The first two parables are usually named The Buried Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price, but that's not what the text says. It does say, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field," but it does not say, "The kingdom of heaven is like pearl of great value." Read your insert. It says, "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for pearls." In Scripture who came searching for whom? Don't we sing, "Found me when I sought Him not?" Doesn't Scripture say, "You did not choose me; I chose you?" The lost sheep does not look for the Good Shepherd.
Who sold all to buy us? Who willingly gave up the mansions of eternity for the cramped spaces of a virgin's womb to redeem life from the human womb on up? Who gave up all glory, laud, and honor as God the Son to live in a humble way upon the earth to purchase and win us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the Devil? You're the pearl of great price. Had it been only you who was a lost and condemned creature; had it been only you heading for the weeping and gnashing of hell; had it been only you who needed the Law of God kept for you; had it been only you who had sins that needed paying for, God the Father would've still sent God the Son and He willingly would have paid everything just for you.
You're worth more than even the most valuable pearl. You are worth the blood, sweat, and tears of God. You are worth God the Son enduring the sorrows a sinner deserves on earth and the torments he deserves in an eternity of hell. You may be costume jewelry to everyone else on earth. You may not be worth a second look by anyone else, but Jesus is overjoyed to have purchased you with holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, and God the Father considers it a good deal. We don't pay for something unless it's worth more to us than what we pay. Do you think God does differently? You, and you alone, are worth more to Him than His Son.
Bring out the new view that you are the buried treasure and the valuable pearl and Jesus is the One who does the buying. So then who lets down the net? Who is the one who directed the disciples where to fish in real life? Jesus. So Jesus directs His net of Word and Sacraments, the only way real fish are caught, be let down in all the world, among all nations. Each Sunday Jesus commands me, "Let down the net," and I head into Bible class then into Divine Service, and the net is deployed. And as whole nations were held accountable to the words of the prophets though they never even went to their cities, so all nations will be held accountable to my words.
Each Sunday I'm commanded to let down the net of the Gospel of forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake; each Sunday I'm commanded to let down the net of the Body and Blood of Jesus on earth for the forgiveness of sins. God would that one and all would swim into the net; one and all believe that it is their sins that Jesus is here to forgive. But even though not all, not even most believe, the net is let down for ones like you.
And you've been caught. No furnace or frying pan for you but waters of life, the river of life, surrounded by the Tree of Life for eternity. There's something here all right, and it's something for you. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20110821); Matthew 13: 44-52