The Plowman and The Merchant

The Plowman and The Merchant

Photo by Harvey Enrile on Unsplash

“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.” – Matthew 13:44-46 (NRSV)

If the kingdom of hell has its roots in that which is worthless, it’s no surprise to hear the kingdom of heaven compared to something valuable. But upon closer examination, it’s not the pearl that’s directly compared to the kingdom here. It’s the merchant.

The merchant is actively searching and finds what he’s looking for. Is the man in the field doing the same?

When I hear buried treasure, I picture somebody’s uncle on the beach with a metal detector. But some biblical scholars believe the man in this story wasn’t necessarily looking for what he found. Eugene Peterson uses “accidentally” to describe the find in The Message; Eugene Boring, a professor at TCU’s divinity school, puts it this way in The New Interpreter’s Bible commentary:

“The plowman is doing his regular work, not looking for or expecting anything special, when he comes upon the treasure quite by accident. The merchant is actively seeking, knows what he is looking for, and still finds something beyond all his expectations. The kingdom can become real in either way.”

Those who seek will find. But you might also stumble upon it.

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Slow and Steady and Right Now.

Slow and Steady and Right Now.

Photo by reza shayestehpour on Unsplash

In January I preached a sermon on patience and talked about a restaurant Alex and I go to on special occasions. It’s the kind of place where they bring you a palate cleanser between courses (so by “special occasions” I mean “when someone gives us a gift card”). It is not the sort of place you go when you’re in any kind of hurry. But what is most remarkable to me about it isn’t the food or the service (both of which are excellent). It’s that in the small set of hours I’ve spent in this place, I’ve never once seen someone on their phone.

Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe it’s a restaurant policy I’m unaware of. Maybe we’ve just dined in particularly detached company. But I am convinced this is an extraordinary dynamic, because I’ve never been asked as many questions after a sermon as I was that day:  that many people wanted to know the name of the restaurant.

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The Kingdom of Hell

The Kingdom of Hell

Photo by paul morris

If Jesus speaks of a kingdom of heaven, is there a kingdom of hell?

After telling a story about how the kingdom of heaven is like a farmer scattering seed, Jesus follows up with another agricultural parable:  again, a farmer sows. But this time an enemy comes in the middle of the night and plants weeds alongside the wheat. When the farmer’s servants ask if he wants them to pull the weeds up, he says to wait until the harvest so as to avoid uprooting the wheat as well. Then the wheat will be gathered and the weeds burned.

Again, the disciples ask what this means and again, Jesus obliges. Distinctions are drawn between the wheat and weeds as “children of the kingdom” and “children of the evil one”. And the harvest is akin to “the end of the age”, when “all causes of sin and all evildoers” will be collected out of the kingdom of heaven and thrown into a fiery furnace.

This sounds like what we tend to think of as hell. When you do a Google image search for hell, the overwhelming visual is fire (and someone who clearly hates Elmo). But when Jesus talks more specifically about hell, fire isn’t always as dominant a metaphor.

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Like Good Soil

Like Good Soil

What does Jesus say most often?

For a complete sentence the winner is, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” This speaks quite highly of us, that the thing Jesus says most often is essentially, “Listen!” This is Christ the frustrated school teacher, knowing we’re going to miss something important and doing his best anyway.

There’s an old saying about show me your bank account and your calendar and I’ll show you what you value. But as most people aren’t in the business of showing me either, I have to rely on what they say. Not the catchphrases or talking points, but what they talk about most often. What we really hear when we listen.

Right now my dessert chef wife values cakes, our soon-to-arrive baby, and whatever her project of the week is. Last week it was leading the music for Vacation Bible School, this week it’s the nursery, next week she’ll be conquering something else. I know this is what she values because I trust her mouth and my ears. She’ll tell you I value church, sports, and the baby in some order depending on what day it is.

What Jesus says most often is, “Listen!” What will we hear if we do?

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