Priority of hidden treasure or a pearl of great price
The next parable characterizes Jesus’ kingdom not as a weed or a corrupting influence but as treasure: a pearl worth a person selling everything they have to obtain it. This language aims squarely at Jesus’ wealthy listeners who had much to lose by embracing Jesus’ vision for human community. Yes, the changes would cost their bottom line, but what they would get in return would be worth so much more.
Welcome Readers! Please subscribe to Social Jesus Here.
It would result in a world that would be safer, more compassionate, and more just for everyone including themselves. Notice how this language is repeatedly focused toward the wealthy in the Jesus story:
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:33)
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)
In the parables of the treasure located in the field and the pearl of great price, those who discovered it sold everything they had to obtain it. And in the book of Acts, wealthy Jesus followers did the same to create the kind of community Jesus’ teachings inspired them toward:
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (Acts 2:45)
That there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:34-35)
Also in this week’s reading, we bump into a theme repeated in Matthew’s gospel. A wide net gathers all. Some people are labeled as good and some as wicked, and a sorting takes place at the end of the age. That “end” includes a purging or burning metaphor for the wicked. Given how long this week’s discussion is, I want to re-share last week’s critique of that way of viewing the world.
Things Old and New
In Jesus’ time, teachers of the Torah who embraced Jesus‘ kingdom paradigm would rightly be expected to bring out both old, universal truths and new ones. This reminds me today that it’s okay for Jesus followers, even within traditional expressions of Christianity, to present interpretations and teachings that mix old and new.
When we discover we have been wrong, that’s okay. That’s a good thing. We can make old, death-dealing interpretations give way to new, life-giving interpretations. We can hold on to old, life-giving interpretations too, and adopt new interpretations that we think are more life-giving as new information is discovered. When what we thought was life-giving turns out not to be, we can hold on to the good old, letting go of the bad old, and replace it with the new. The object is not to protect everything that is old, but to ask whether what we are believing and practicing is truly life giving for all. If we hold to this standard, it will produce a Jesus follower that isn’t afraid of the new.
Our goal is to be a source of healing and life and change for the better for everyone. And in this way, Jesus followers can, as our reading states, brings out of our storerooms new treasures as well as old.
Herb’s new book, Finding Jesus: A story of a fundamentalist preacher who unexpectedly discovered the social, political, and economic teachings of the Gospels, is now available at Renewed Heart Ministries.