Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado set out with 300 Spaniards, 1,000 Indians, 1,000 extra horses, herds of pigs and sheep, and 6 swivel guns to search for the 7 Cities of Gold that a crazed white man reported existed. This man had been shipwrecked on the coast of Florida in 1524 and 8 years later ended up in California with his story. Coronado never found the cities. When he returned to Spain in 1542 saying so, he wasn't believed. In 1930 J. Frank Dobie of the University of Texas wrote a book about men's absurd willingness to believe and search for buried treasurer. He titled the book Coronado's Children.
Is this what Jesus would have us be in these two parables? If so, I'm a natural. I've always dreamed of buried treasure; do till this day. The land I hunt has a cemetery dating to 1877; it was a stagecoach stop. I continually look for where a fleeing criminal might have stashed his loot. The Old San Antonio Road is just 3 miles from there. Conquistadors are said to have passed on it with loads of gold. When the creek bed is dry, I'm not just looking for wild hogs but buried Spanish doubloons.
To be in search of something very valuable like the pearl merchant or to have great joy at happening to find buried treasure is perfectly natural for me. What's not natural for me is to buy all for the sake of Jesus. If the buried treasure in the field is Jesus, His kingdom, and I happened to find it I wouldn't buy the whole field just to get it. Be honest; would you? I want Jesus the treasure but not the field that goes with Him. With Jesus comes the hatred of all men, suffering, the cross, "many a sorrow, many a labor, many a tear." With Jesus comes the burden of my neighbors; whatever I do or don't do to them it's counted as done or not done to Jesus. Sorry, having Jesus is great but all that goes with Him isn't.
I'm a natural treasure hunter and as we sang Jesus is a priceless treasure, but it's not natural for me to sell all to get Him. As it's not natural for me to buy all to get Jesus; so it's not natural for me sell all to get Jesus either. O in my own strength of will I can give up some sins, some opinions, some possessions outwardly, but not all or any inwardly. I can sing on Good Friday "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all," but if I really meant it I wouldn't grumble and complain when it demands my time, talent, or treasure. And here's the kicker; to have Jesus doesn't cost a percentage, some, a portion, as people like to think, it costs all. And when I hear that my face falls as quickly and as darkly as the rich young man's did.
In reality, I'm a good for nothing fish caught in the net of the Church, and so are you. By nature I am a child of Coronado always in search of buried treasure but not a child of God. I don't search for Jesus and even if I should happen to find Him He's not worth everything to me. I'm the mudcat, the turtle, the carp Jesus, the Fisherman, should cast out of His net into the fire.
Now I'm on to something; when Jesus is seen as the main actor in these parables they become useful, helpful, comforting. For the sake of us children of the heavenly Father buried as we were in the mud, dirt, and filth of this world, Jesus did buy all the world. 2 Corinthians 5 says, "God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ. John says Jesus is not just the wrath-removing sacrifice for us but for the whole world. Children of Coronado won't buy all that goes with Jesus to get Jesus, but Jesus bought the whole world to buy us.
There's more. I am always in search of the treasures of this life. Jesus came in search of us. As a royal prince willingly fights monsters, endures suffering, temptation, and death to fulfill a quest, so Jesus really did that. He gave up all; He sold all and that cheaply to get us. He sold the mansions of heaven to "buy" space in the Virgin's Womb. He sold the worship of angels to "buy" the shame, scorn, and judgment of men that you deserve for your sins. He sold holiness, life, and the protection of God the Father to buy your sins, your death, and the Devil's persecution of you.
He sold all to buy you. Philippians 2 says, Though He was God, He made Himself nothing. He humbled himself and became obedient to death even death on a cross! Coronado travelled America in search of seven cities of gold. His children have given up much, even all, dying to find an earthly treasure. God the Son gave up all, suffered all, bled freely, cried freely, sweated freely to buy back worthless sinners like us who are at the mercy of sin, death and the Devil which have no mercy at all.
Being the buried treasure for whose sake the Lord buys the whole world, being the pearl of great price for which the Lord sold all changes us in this Season of change called Pentecost.
St. Augustine who spent years in heresy, years in wanton sins of the flesh, years as Coronado's child seeking something on earth that could fill his empty, aching need said after being found and bought back by Jesus, "Lord, You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless till it rests in Thee" (Confessions, i,1). The restless in heart is the double-minded man that James speaks of who is unstable in all his ways. The double-minded man is the wicked Isaiah describes as "The troubled seas which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud." But the heart that rests in the open, cleansing, forgiving wounds of Jesus is single-minded, stable, untroubled as a placid pond reflecting all the glory, majesty, and peacefulness of a summer sky.
Such a person is a changed man, woman, child. Augustine had acquired such treasures as Coronado's children can find in this fallen world. Money, power, pleasures of the flesh, but once Jesus had acquired him as His priceless treasure things were different. It was sweetness itself to lose all that he had once counted so dear. He said, "How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be without the delights of trifles! And what at one time I feared to lose, it was now a joy to me to put away" (Confessions, xi, 1)! Friends such a conversion, such a change can't be taught to you or exhorted out of you. The change from being a child of Coronado to a child of God only comes from the Holy Spirit teaching you that you are the Lord's priceless treasurer worth more than the world, more than God's glory, worth more to God than His own Son.
When we speak of such momentous changes, we're in the realm of the miraculous, the realm of life from the dead, the realm of nature, not sinful nature but what God works every year in nature. We probably all have Live Oak trees near our homes. In them we see a miracle every year, but because we see it every year we don't count it as miraculous but normal. Each year the dead leaves of a Live Oak are pushed off of the tree by the new, green leaves coming from behind. What is old, dead and useless to the tree is naturally pushed aside by what is new, living, and needed by the tree.
Likewise, the treasures we have amassed as faithful children of Coronado become old, dead, and useless to us when we are found by Jesus amid the mud and mire of the world. Our delight in trifles is pushed aside when Jesus pays all of His blood, all of His sweat, all of His tears, all of His glory, honor, praise, and holiness to buy us back. Pushed off is our high view of our own opinions and ideas by the holy, precious Words of our Lord. Pushed off is our low view of the suffering, sighing, bleeding and dying that comes to children of the cross by the high, holy sufferings of Jesus for us. In a matter of days a Live Oak goes from being a dying tree to a living one. This stupendous miracle is performed by God in trees by His Almighty power operating in nature; it is performed in us by His Holy Spirit operating in Words and Sacraments.
These change everything. These change the view of onetime children of Coronado. In the 4th century a bishop was called to the royal court of the Roman emperor and ordered to produce "the treasures of the church." The emperor felt threatened by the growing Christian church, and he wanted the wealth that he believed the church must have. The bishop protested, saying that the church didn't have gold, jewels, or other valuables. But the emperor, a child of Coronado, was insistent, and demanded that the riches of the church be brought to him in the morning.
The next day, the bishop appeared at the palace doorway empty-handed. "I told you to bring me the treasures of the church!" the emperor thundered. The bishop then invited the emperor to look out on the palace steps. Gathered together, peering sheepishly at the great doors of the palace above them, was a mass of beggars, cripples, slaves, and outcasts. "These," said the bishop to the emperor, "are the treasures of the church." Coronado's children can't see this; God's children in Christ can because we see every thing differently because He has made us so very different.
We see riches as poverty, the poor as rich, the lame as healed, and the dead as living. We see Water as regenerating, Words as forgiving, and Bread as the Pearl of great price. The Greek word for pearl is margarites. Look in an unabridged English dictionary and you will find an entry for "margarita," but you won't find a drink described. You will find margarita is the name in the Eastern Orthodox Church for a crumb of sacramental Bread.
We find such a margarita, a Pearl, here every Sunday on our altar, in our hands, in our mouths. It's nothing to the world, no earthly value Coronado's children, but to us this Pearl is the Body of our God, and we don't wear it for show but eat it for forgiveness, for life, and for eternal salvation.
Read Dobie's book; Coronado's children never find the treasure they seek. God's children in Christ do. Finding that they are a treasure to Him, they treasure Him as the Pearl of unimaginable worth even when they find Him hidden in Words, Water, Wine and Bread. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost (20080720); Matthew 13: 44-46