The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you." Solomon answered: "O Lord, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. I serve you in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?"
The Lord was pleased that Solomon made this request. So God said to him: "Because you have asked for this - not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right - I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you."(P) The word of the Lord.
I have said, O Lord, that my part is to keep your words. The law of your mouth is to me more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces. (R)
Let your kindness comfort me according to your promise to your servants. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight. (R)
For I love your commands more than gold, however fine. For in all your precepts I go forward; every false way I hate. (R)
Wonderful are your decrees; therefore I observe them. The revelation of your words sheds light, giving understanding to the simple. (R)
Brothers and sisters: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus said to his disciples: "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
"Do you understand all these things?" They answered, "Yes," And he replied, "Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
To understand a given passage in the Bible, it is important to know the context. Today's gospel narrative touches on the conflicts between our Lord Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders of his day over the observance of the Mosaic Law and His authority and power to establish the kingdom of God. "The kingdom of God" which is also called "the kingdom of heaven" was the central theme of Jesus' teachings.
Knowing their persistent stubbornness and defiance against God, against His message and authority, Jesus intentionally and creatively preached about the kingdom of God with a story. Especially he used parables to illustrate the nature or the mystery of God's kingdom. In speaking in parables, not only was He fulfilling a part of the Psalm which says, "I will speak in parables; I will talk of old mysteries," but also revealing more fully the mysteries of God's kingdom to his followers while at the same time concealing these mysteries from his enemies, Psalms (78:2).
The mysteries of God's kingdom are gospel truths. Jesus' followers were able to understand the mysteries through the power of the Holy Spirit and the fuller explanations that Jesus gave to them in private, while his enemies had lost even the little understanding they had of the Old Testament prophecies because they had relied on their own efforts and wisdom rather than God's wisdom. Moreover, the mysteries being revealed were in contrast to the general understanding and beliefs of the people at that time, who were expecting the Messiah to overthrow the Roman Empire and destroy all the enemies of Israel and, establish His kingdom with the New Jerusalem at its centre.
In the parables read so far, Jesus has revealed the following mysteries. From the parable of the sower we learn that most of those who hear the message of the kingdom of heaven will reject it. Only some will receive the message, believe in it and cherish it in their heart, till kingdom come. The parable of the weeds among the wheat shows that in God's kingdom there is toleration for the enemies of God, though eventually there will be judgment upon them. The parable of the mustard seed teaches us that the kingdom of God may start out extremely small, but eventually will become a very large force and a blessing to all. And the parable of the yeast demonstrates that even small and little things can make a big difference and change the world.
We read three parables in today's text:
The parable of the hidden treasure. Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and in joy, goes and sells all that he has and buys that field", Matthew (13:44).
This may seem an unlikely story to us, but to the people of Jesus' time, this might not have been all that uncommon. Because at that time, there were no banks nor public depositories in which people could store their wealth. Besides, the land of Israel was surrounded by the great powers of the ancient world - Egypt to the South, Babylon or the Persian Empire to the East, and Assyria to the North. Every time these nations went to war, Israel found herself caught between them. So, they used to protect their possessions from theft, robbery and the plundering of enemy soldiers, by burying them in the ground or hiding them in walls and retrieve them later.
However, if the person who had buried it died or never returned from captivity then the treasure would remain buried until someone discovered it. Jesus simply used such stories to teach a lesson on the kingdom of God. The text does not say specifically why the man was in that field. He might have been either working in it or walking through it. What is noteworthy here is that he was not specifically looking for the treasure but had rather accidentally stumbled upon it. Upon finding it, he was filled with joy. And not wanting anyone else to find it, he hid it again and proceeded to do what was necessary to make it his own. He probably wanted to avoid all legal disputes. Hence, he sold everything he had and bought not just the area where the treasure was hidden but the whole field.
Some people may question the honesty and integrity of this man for he did not surrender the treasure to the owner of the field. However, his character is validated by three facts. Firstly, if he was dishonest he could have simply and quietly stolen the treasure outright. Secondly, the Jewish law provided that if a man found something that had obviously been lost and the owner was dead or unknown, the finder could keep it. Thirdly, if the owner had been aware of the treasure, he could have either removed the treasure prior to the sale, or might not have sold the field in the first place. Fourthly, the man went to great lengths to secure the treasure by selling all he had so that he could buy the whole field and no one could dispute his legal right to it. Through this parable Jesus taught the hearers of his message not to expect to be part of God's kingdom simply because of their blood relationship to Abraham but rather they had to personally make an effort to appropriate it.
The second parable is the parable of the costly pearl. Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great value, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it", Matthew (13:45-46).
Here, a merchant was specifically looking for very high-quality pearls. And when he did find one that was extraordinary, he sold everything he owned and purchased it. People once again might have gravely understood this parable. Because pearls in the ancient world had a greater value than they do today, perhaps even more so than gold. So, when the merchant discovered a uniquely precious pearl worth more than anything else, he sold all his merchandise and bought the single costly pearl for himself.
The teaching of the parable is the same. Jesus wanted his hearers to know that the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven is something that has to be personally appropriated to enjoy its benefits. One is not going to be part of it just because they are Abraham's descendants. However, there is one difference between the two parables. In the first, the person stumbled onto the treasure; while in the second, the merchant had been diligently looking for it.
It is also an illustration the people might have understood perfectly well for there were many in his audience who were fishermen. In fact, in Jesus' time, a small flourishing fishing industry had developed around the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus often preached by the Sea. The fishermen would cast a large net out and drag it behind the boat. This net would capture everything in its path. After they had dragged the net onto the shore, they would sit down and sort out the good fish to put into baskets and the bad ones throw away. Jesus used this parable to teach his listeners that on the day of judgment, at the end of time, the angels will separate the wicked from the righteous and, the righteous will receive their reward and the wicked their punishment.
What is the message for us?
God uses a variety of circumstances to bring the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven which is full of grace, love, justice, peace, joy and goodness to us. However, there is only one way by which we can partake of what is being offered. As a matter of fact, we are "already" in the kingdom, but we do "not yet" see it in its glory. That is to say, just like the man in the first parable, some of us have stumbled upon the kingdom of heaven or the truth of the gospel of Jesus by virtue of being born into a Christian family while others, like the merchant, have discovered it after months and years of searching. But before we take possession of what we have found, we must, first and foremost, recognize the supreme value and worth of having Jesus and His kingdom in our personal lives and then, we must desire to see, as Saint Paul says, "not food and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy" in the kingdom, Romans (14:17). That is to say, we must "seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness", Matthew (6:33).
And then, to possess or belong to this kingdom, we must renounce everything we have no matter how great or small it is, if that is the way to gain it. We often forget that in our own homes, we can nurture qualities that contribute to God's kingdom, such as goodness, mercy, generosity, humility, patience, gentleness, justice, joy and peace. Renunciation does not mean only renunciation of material goods but also selfishness, greed, pride, self-importance, independence, envy and other such personal negative attributes.
Saint Paul has shown us the way to seek and possess Christ, the precious treasure. In his letter to the Philippians, for instance, he considers finding Christ is like finding a treasure, the greatest gain and therefore, is willing to give up everything he has to possess this treasure, Philippians (3:7-14). He counts everything else as worthless compared to the priceless treasure of life in Christ. He further explains that he desires and loves Christ so much because it is only through Christ, can he obtain mercy, pardon, peace and everlasting life.
The exchange is our bad for God's good. God longs to take our weakness and exchange it for His strength. He wants us to return to Him so that we may obtain pardon and have peace. It is, therefore, a simple matter of turning from our sinfulness that leads to death, and turning to the Lord who will forgive and lead us to the path of life. However, we must remember that one way or another, everything will come to an end, and there will be a time when God will judge all of us. On that day, He will separate the "righteous from the wicked". So, it is extremely important to accept the gospel offered to us while it is still available, and give up anything that hinders us from following the Lord, in order to gain eternal happiness and peace.
I leave you with these questions today. How much do you value life in Christ? Whether you are a Christian from birth or have intentionally sought and discovered Jesus, what are you willing to give up for the Lord Jesus Christ and His kingdom? Would you be willing to give up your pride, arrogance, selfishness, gossip, greed and envy for His grace and peace? If you are not, what is holding you back from fully giving of yourself to Him? What do you consider more worthy than life with Him?(P) Amen.
God Bless You!