We are all just passing through this ‘valley of sorrows’ as we call it in the 7th Petition. We’re on a road trip. It would be silly to be invested, to be tied to a town you’re just passing through. Even if you stayed a night or 2 or 3, what’s it to you what is going on here? This is not your home. The 5th century Collect states that our goal is to “so pass through things temporal that we lose not things eternal.” This in line with Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 4:18, “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Jesus priceless treasuer. That’s a big thing to sing and an even bigger one to mean. Jesus is worth more than everything you have, own, are. Really? Isn’t this just hyperbole? Not on your life or rather His. Jesus isn’t just priceless He’s worth my soul, my life, my all as we sing elsewhere. Did you notice the “all” feature of the parables. The first guy “sold all he had”. The pearl merchant “sold all things.” The net “caught all kinds of fish”. Then Jesus asks, “Have you understood all these things?”
So is Jesus you’re treasure beyond all else? You know we’re in Ananias and Saphira territory here, don’t you? Say Jesus is your treasure above all else and He’s not, and that can kill you. Read Acts 5. Trying to imitate Barnabas who sold land and gave all the proceeds to the Church, this husband and wife pretended to do the same. They say they gave all but only gave some, and ended up giving their lives for lying to the Holy Spirit. Be clear. There was no requirement for anyone to sell any property or to give all the proceeds to the Church. Peter made this clear when questioning husband and wife separately. Their pretending they did was the problem.
That’s not how it is with Jesus. It’s like the old Jack Benny bit. The stick up man says, “You’re money or your life!” And Benny pauses and says, “I’m thinking; I’m thinking.” You can’t have 2 priceless treasures and Jesus won’t be second. Jesus said, “What does it profit a man do gain the world and lose his soul?” We don’t recognize ourselves in that equation because most people lose their soul for just a piece of the world. Just a few minutes fun in a fling. A lie on a tax form. A casual, painless, ‘harmless’ putting Jesus second. That means Jesus isn’t your priceless treasuer after all; pun intended.
Have you’ve ever been tangled in barbed wire, a briar patch, or your tackle box? Every which way you move, you’re grabbed again. That’s the temporal world we’re trying to pass through. There are 10,000 hooks and barbs to snag us. You find deer and calves dead in tangled barbwire. They couldn't free themselves from that world and struggled to death trying. And we can’t either no matter how loud we sing Jesus’ priceless treasure.
In the second parable, we’re not that pearl. If we cast ourselves in the role of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price, than we’re worth all to Jesus. Well, we are and we aren’t. The Lord tells the OT Church, “The Lord did not set His affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deut. 7:7). As for us, we’re like how the Angel of the Lord describes the high priest. We’re a brand snatched from the fire (Zech. 3:2). Actually, we’re more like the aged-Indian. After being converted, he was asked to explain what happened. He picked up an earthworm, placed it on a pile of leaves, lit the leaves on fire. The flames worked their way up to where the worm was in the center of the burning pile, the old chief suddenly plunged his hand into the center of the burning leaves snatching out the worm. Holding the worm gently in his hand he said, ‘Me...that worm’" (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 176)!
One of the changes made in the text of Luther’s Small Catechism in 1991 was what Jesus redeemed. I memorized I was “a lost and condemned creature”. It changed to “a lost and condemned person.” Now from what I can tell, ‘creature’ or ‘person’ is accurate, but when I was memorizing this the movie The Creature from the Black Lagoon had just aired on broadcast TV. On black and white TV this black and white movie stood out. Right before my eyes was what I was and what Jesus had redeemed me from.
This world beckons you to its treasure of pleasure. The Devil tells you if God really loved you so many things would be better. And your own sinful flesh sings with Toby Keith in 2001, “I wanna talk about be…Wanna talk about number one..” Or we sing with John Denver from 1975, “More than anything else I’m sorry for myself.” But we’re no prize, no treasure, and you’re sure not that one pearl worth everything the Merchant has, but Jesus did give all of Himself to the Devil and Death by taking up God’s Laws given to man. Jesus obligated Himself to keep them. Here you should hear, “Working in the Coal Mine” from 1966, or from 1980 Dolly’s “Working 9-5.” But that’s too bright. Jesus tempted in all ways we are in a world that was in rebellion against God and faced with a Devil who tempted at His weakest time, He kept all the Law, and then gave His soul, life, self to torture, to damnation and to death. He became a worm and no man Jesus says in Ps. 22 to redeem us. And no one took Him out of the fire.
Doesn’t this Gospel snag you just bit? He the true priceless Treasure gives it all to snatch us out of a world heading for hell faster than the proverbial snowball. But we pause here, dawdle there, get caught up in the politics, values, life of a world that is passing away. We’re stopping to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic while Jesus beckons us to so pass through these temporal things to His eternal place in the lifeboat.
Now for the pièce de résistance. We’re ending where we did last week. No hypocrites allowed. The biggest threat to passing through is hypocrisy. How is this about hypocrisy? Follow the parables. One treasure in the field is worth buying the whole field with all Jesus had. The merchant finds one pearl and sells all He had to buy it. These are parables of what the salvation of just one individual is worth. But then Jesus tells the tale of the dragnet. Just because you’re caught by the Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t mean you’re going to heaven. All kinds of fish are caught by heaven’s net, but only some are saved. The rest are thrown back. Oh not into water but “into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
And like 2 weeks ago, see the key role of understanding. In the Parable of the Sower the one who receives the Word with joy fell away as soon as temptation came. Follow the Greek Word, syni?mi through Matthew. Seeing and hearing parables those outside the Church don’t understand (13:13). This fulfills Isaiah’s prophesy that they will keep on hearing but will not understand (13:14). If their hearts hadn’t become dull they would have understood (13:15). If you hear the Word and don’t understand the Devil comes and snatches it away (13:19). The good soil “is the man who hears the word and understands (13:23). And then comes syni?mi in our text. "’Have you understood all these things?"
And what do they say? "’Yes,’ they replied. Duh, only a fool would’ve replied, “No.” I’m not the brightest bulb in the fixture, but after all the talk of the importance of understanding and the judgment on not, even I know don’t say ‘no’. But a hypocrite too would say, ‘yes.’ Back when the millennials were first coming of age, one of you told me, “They don’t like to be told ‘no’, and some of them might never have been told no in their life.” This proved true. And they easily said, ‘yes.’ I asked a half dozen or so millennials to come to Adult Confirmation classes. Everyone said, “Yes,” Not one came. If you are saying yes, when you don’t really understand or yes when you mean no, you’re a hypocrite. Read Matthew 23 for the Lord’s judgment on what happens to hypocrites. Here’s a clue. That worm doesn’t get snatched from burning hell.
You really have got to have gone either seining or shrimping to get the picture of the dragnet. There are 2 other Greek words in the NT for nets. This is the one for a dragnet. There were 2 ways to fish this. Either by its being let down into the water and drawing it together in a narrowing circle, and then into the boat, or as a semicircle drawn to the shore (Vine, 430). The text doesn’t say “all kinds of fish” are caught, but every kind of thing. In seins it’s going to be shoes, cans, sticks. In shrimp trawling it’s crabs, octopi, croakers, and other living things. The good fish are kept. We’re not good fish by nature, but we’re reborn by Holy Baptism. There the lost and condemned creature is drowned and New Man created in Christ Jesus rises and walks about in a new life.
Tertullian, 2nd century, said: "But we, little fishes, after the example of our IXTHUS, Jesus Christ, are born in water,.” A simple drawing of a fish was used in early Christian symbolism to identify each other when Christianity was illegal. The Greek letters for the word ichthus (fish) are an acronym for ‘Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior’” (https://cyclopedia.lcms.org/). So Tertullian said that we little fish are born in Baptismal water following the great fish Jesus. He goes on to say, “nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water; …” So the Devil “knew full well how to kill the little fishes by taking them away from the water" (On Baptism 1, ANF,III, 669).
We’re safe in our Baptism. Step out of your Baptism by defending any sin, excusing any sin, pretending you’re not a sinner when you are, or pretending you understand and believe when you don’t, and you’ll find yourself unlike Garth Brooks standing inside the fire right next to that earthworm. Don’t go there. What do we say in Baptism IV? By daily contrition and repentance we remember our Baptism and die and rise all over again. That’s why Lutherans have been directed since 1529 to remember our Baptism each day and night by making the sign of the cross over ourselves. The cross is the mark of the One who has passed through and also of those now so passing through things temporal that they’re not losing things eternal. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20230806); Matthew13:34-52