Treasure Trove and Priceless Pearl
July 30, 2000
Matthew 13:44-46 The Rev. Carol DiBiasio-Snyder
Introduction to the Scripture:
Today you have to listen carefully and quickly to the scripture because as
soon as Karen gets started she will be done. There are only 64 words in
this reading, but Jesus words are at once simple and profound. Jesus uses
the ordinary to speak of the holy. Jesus packs a great deal into a few
sentences. So get ready, get set . . . now lets listen for the word of
Her family had lived in the tiny village of Ventosa on the top of this mountain for more generations than anyone could remember. She loved to look out at the sea when the air was clear. She loved watching the greening of the hillsides as the olive trees leafed out in the spring. Rosaria was the oldest of thirteen children and her younger brothers and sisters all joined in the celebration when in 1916 she married Antonio whose family lived just down the mountain in Santi Cosma e Domiano. Their joy multiplied when Rosaria and Antonios first child, a boy, was born healthy and survived, and then a second.
Antonio was a man with big dreams, hopes and ideas for his family. Heart-wrenching as it was to leave his home town, he had heard the stories, big stories about America, the land of opportunity, freedom and education. It took everything he had. It took everything his family had. Even poor, old Giuseppe, the town beggar pressed a few lire into Antonio's palm when he hugged him good-bye. As Antonio headed off to Naples on his way to the land of promise, he gave Rosaria the promise he would earn enough money to send for her and the boys one day.
Both the man and the land made good on their promises. My grandmother, with only a second grade education, her two small children and a note pinned to her dress saying in English what she could not, left family and village and Italy behind to start a new life in Cleveland, Ohio.
The kingdom of heaven is like two immigrants who, believing that a better life for them and their children is possible, sell all that they have, leave all that they know, and go to a new country.
Becky loved to travel and although her job at the small trucking firm in California did not pay much, she was determined to save enough to go to Britain one day. She worked hard and figured out ways to cut corners here and there and kept adding a little at a time to her savings account. She read every book about England she could and scrimped and saved until one day she was close to having enough for her glorious dream trip of a life time.
Across the country, in Pennsylvania, Beth always felt a kind of emptiness that she could never quite explain and never quite fill. It wasnt until her parents were killed in an car accident that she began to understand. Her mind and heart were reeling as she found the file and read the paperwork that explained that she and her twin sister had been separated at birth and adopted by different families.
As the shock wore off, Beth's determination to find and meet her twin took over her life. After many twists and turns, miraculous moments and blind alleys, Beth finally located Becky. Neither had known the other existed, both had felt the sense of something missing and both were immediately drawn to the other.
Beth's health was declining and the trip to California would be expensive and hard on her. Becky needed only a moment to make the decision to exchange her trip to England for a trip to meet her twin, her sister, her other half.
The kingdom of heaven is like twins who, though separated at birth, later discover each other and give all that they have saved so that they might find one another again.
One of my favorite movies is Babette's Feast. It is a story of a small group of pious Christians who live on the desolate coast of Denmark at the end of the last century. Their life is marked by simplicity, pietistic attitudes, poverty and a certain amount of bickering.
Escaping from danger in France, Babette finds refuge with two sisters, leaders of the tiny Christian community. She cooks and cleans for them for many years. One day, a letter for Babette postmarked in France brings excitement and curiosity. She has won the lottery! She has, in her hand a check for a huge amount of money! What will Babette do with it? Will she return to France? Will she put it in the bank?
When Babette lived in France, she was one of the most renowned chefs in Paris. She decides she will spend the money to prepare a gourmet French feast for these simple people who saved her life. These plain folks who live on a diet of boiled codfish and bread ale soup will experience a memorable, mouth-watering, magnificent meal. Even though the recipients of this gift will have no idea of the significance of what they are eating, Babette sets about making the arrangements for the feast.
The rough wooden table is spread with a crisp, starched linen tablecloth, fancy folded napkins and elegant silver candelabra. Fine china plates and bowls and at least five sparkling crystal goblets grace each place. With deep joy and a sense of both purpose and creativity, Babette provides this feast for the eyes, the palate and the soul: wines, champagne, turtle soup, tiny quail, stuffed and then served in delicate pastry nests, caviar, luscious fruit, cheeses, salad, and fresh ground coffee. As the stiff pietism of the group begins to give way to the joy of this gift, the members of the group reconcile with one another and the evening ends with a feeling of love and warmth shared by all.
The kingdom of heaven is like a poor, refugee woman who wins the lottery and spends it all on the giving a joyful feast of her finest cooking to her pious friends.
Giving up in order to gain is the theme of our scripture for today. In the first parable a person, most likely a poor one, finds a treasure unexpectedly and in the second parable, a rich merchant searches long and hard to find the most spectacular pearl. Each then goes and sells everything to attain the treasure. Jesus does not seem to accent the sacrifice each makes. Noteworthy is the great joy with which our text tells us the first person goes about selling everything. Both the surprised field hand and the searching merchant know well that the value of what they are getting is greater than the value of what they have. And so they eagerly give up in order to gain.
Jesus tells his listeners, that this is what the kingdom or the reign of God is like. It is so wonderful, so joyful, so valuable that when you find it, either by surprise or by a long search, you will be joyfully willing to give up everything in order to have it.
But just what is the kingdom of God? That is not an easy question to answer. Piles of books and stacks of sermons have attempted to answer that question. Whatever else it is, the reign of God, the kingdom of heaven means living in loving relationship with God and with others. There is always a sense that the reign of God is here with us now, but at the same time not yet complete. It seems that what Jesus is saying is that this thing called the kingdom, this living out God's values in the world, is so wonderful, so valuable that when we truly see it, it will be to us as a treasure trove or a priceless pearl. We will be so taken with wanting to be a part of it that we will gladly give up whatever it takes to get it. So great will be our joy that we will not even see it as sacrifice.
This morning, God is offering us an invitation, an invitation to the kingdom of heaven. In the coming week, you may, like the man tilling the field, be surprised by the treasure of Gods presence and purpose as you stumble across it in the dullness of daily life and work. In the coming week, you may, like the merchant searching high and low, finally find the pearl of Gods presence and purpose for which you have been longing and looking. In the coming week, you may, like Rosaria and Antonio, realize that you are willing to give up everything in which you find security and identity, in order to leap into the unknown needing to trust only in Gods purpose and presence for your future. In the coming week, you may, like Beth and Becky, discover that what you thought you wanted most is easily sacrificed for what you realize you truly wanted and did not even know it. In the coming week, you may, like Babette, be given the chance to go against the prevailing ideas about wealth, and with the purpose and presence of God filling you, be your truest self in service to others. In the coming week, watch, wait, look, listen, give, follow when the kingdom of heaven is revealed to you in all its richness and glory. Whatever sacrifice you make for it will be well worth the price. Amen.