In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus again gives us three parables. Three parables and then an instruction that sounds like yet another parable. Perhaps he thinks we can handle all this! Let's think about what he can mean.
Jesus begins with two parables that sound very similar:,
“The kingdom of God 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 God 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.
In both parables someone finds something extremely valuable, and by selling everything, can have it. We can wonder if Jesus just repeats himself—if he just says the same thing in two different ways. Possibly. But we notice some differences.
In the Parable of the Pearl of Great Value, the merchant searches for pearls as a way of life. He makes an honest living. He would be an expert in the value of pearls. We can imagine that finding the One pearl somehow satisfies him. All his searching is over.
In the Parable of the Hidden Treasure, however, we have someone who is not necessarily living an honest life. This person digs in a field that does not belong to him. We might expect a person like this to grab the treasure and run when he finds it, but the finding of the treasure seems to take him in a new direction. He buries the treasure and buys the whole field. At the end of the parable he has not just the treasure, but the whole field—grass and dirt and worms, as well. We know he has the treasure...somewhere.
Both of these situations, Jesus says, are like the Kingdom of God. The value of the Kingdom can be recognized and will be desired both by those who make it their life's work to find it, and by those who maybe do not live as they should. Each of these parables, on their own, can give us much to think about.
When we look closely at the two parables together, at the action words Jesus uses when the person finds the most valuable thing, we can notice something more:
"goes and sells"..."went and sold"
Jesus changes the tense of the action words.
In one situation, he uses the present tense. The action happens.
In the other situation, he chooses to use the past tense. The action happened.
Some people might decide that this it is just a mistake. But is that likely? Mistakes would be fixed. Does Jesus say it this way on purpose?
Present action; past action.
New action; old action.
Let's keep that in mind.
These two parables do not just stand on their own; they actually form part of a trilogy of parables. Jesus continues,
“Again, the kingdom of God is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
This parable changes the whole tone! Where is the finding of treasure??? Yikes!
Interesting that the Kingdom of God is like a net that was thrown into the sea.
When was it thrown? How long ago?
If the net was thrown into the sea, then the net is all around us now. That means that right now we are swimming in the Kingdom of God! Right now!
Enjoy that for a moment.
The treasure is hidden right here.
The pearl can be found right here.
We are swimming in it.
The net catches every kind of fish. Every kind.
The kind that honestly search for the Kingdom, and the kind that have gone astray digging where they should not be.
Those who have been living the life of the Kingdom their whole lives, and those who discover Kingdom-living late.
Old action, new action. The Kingdom of God catches them all.
Everyone can recognize the value of the Kingdom whether they search for it or whether they stumble across it while doing something they should not.
The net will not be pulled in until the end of the age, Jesus says, and then the fish will be separated. Then the separation begins, not before. The Kingdom of God catches every kind of fish—the Kingdom of God can be found by every kind of person—but what will the condition of the fish be when it comes time for separation?
What makes a fish bad? Not the kind of fish, but whether it is still alive when it is gathered in. If it does not have life within it, it will start to rot. The angels look for those with life within them. Does that mean that all those who have died before "the end of the age" will be thrown out? Or is Jesus looking for the life of the Kingdom within them? We are swimming in the Kingdom right now...are we living the life of the Kingdom right now?
“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”
So have we.
We choose to live the life of the Kingdom.
We make poor choices, but we return again and again, because we know who the treasure is. We know him, and we love him.
And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of God is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
There it is again! New and old!
Treasure that is ever ancient, ever new? St. Augustine tells us, that is the Word of God!
We are the scribes trained for the Kingdom of God—we are swimming in it right now and we know it!—and we bring out the Word of God each week and mull it over. We read what is written ages and ages ago, and thinking over it together something new is born. It is treasure that attracts the honest and the dishonest, and breathes life—Kingdom life—within them.