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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

October 22, 2017

 The Treasure Hidden in the Field

and the Pearl of Great Price

Genesis 29:15-28; Matthew 13:44-46

            It is sometimes simply called, “The Card.”  I am speaking about (I am sure all of you women here know about “The Card”!) the 1909 T206 Honus Wagner baseball card.  Nobody is quite sure how many of them were made.  They guess somewhere between fifty to as many as two hundred, but forty-eight of them still exist.  One of them called, “The Gretzky T206” sold over and over again in the early 2000’s, finally, fetching a price of two million, eight hundred thousand dollars in 2011.  It was considered the most coveted baseball card in history, until questions began to be raised about how its condition was so perfect.  In a Federal court (It scares me to think that we spend Federal dollars trying to judge the value of baseball cards!), a guy by the name of Bill Mastro admitted that he had altered the edges of that card in order to make it more valuable.  Immediately its value dropped, and the poor person who spent almost three million dollars for the card still owns it.  It did not stop people’s search for the perfect card.  There is another one called, “The T206 Honus Wagner Jumbo,” because the white border on the bottom is much wider than a perfect card would possess.  It ended up selling this past summer for 3.2 million dollars.  (And all this for a baseball card!)

            What I want to tell you this morning is whatever that card cost, it is nothing compared to the price of the treasure found in the field, or what the scriptures call “The Pearl of Great Value” or “The Pearl of Great Price.”  In Jesus’ twin parables (fraternal, not identical twins – we will talk about that later), we are told by Jesus that both the farmer who happened upon the treasure in the field, and the pearl merchant who had been searching his whole life for the perfect pearl, that both of them “sold everything they had” in order to possess these treasures, these gifts.  Everything!

            There is a New Testament theologian I love by the name of F. Dale Bruner.  He offers his own translation of the Greek.  Sometimes he takes a certain freedom with it.  In both these cases he makes the point: “they sold absolutely everything that they had” in order to possess these treasures.  Bruner makes another point, though, because he knows that Jesus’ audience would have been sobered by the thought of giving up “absolutely everything that you have” in order to possess any treasure.  What could be more frightening to us?  Here is the point that Bruner makes: Yes, this parable is about sacrifice.  It’s about giving up everything you have, but it is also a parable about joy. 

            The farmer in the field is doing what he has done for years – plowing in some else’s field.  Only this time he hits something that turns out to be a treasure.  It was probably hidden years ago, perhaps by a former owner who never returned.  We do not know, as Jesus never tells us.  But what we do know is that he sells everything to buy the field, because of his joy in what he has found.  The Talmud teaches that whoever owned a field, owned all that was in it – even treasure!  This is not just a story of sacrifice – it is also a story about joy.  The fellow gives up everything, “absolutely everything that he had,” because he regards this treasure such a source of joy that it is worthy of such sacrifice.

            The pearl merchant is a different story.  He is in the business of trading pearls, and he has been looking for this pearl, not knowing that it is even out there, not even knowing what it looks like, for his entire professional life.  In the parable that Jesus tells, when he finds it, once again motivated by joy, he sells “absolutely everything he has” in order to possess it.  What is worth everything that you have in order to find joy?  

            There is a line in the Book of Hebrews that speaks about Jesus.  I cannot help but to think it is at work in this parable.  Hebrews says, “Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame….”  “For the joy that was set before Him.”  Life, dear friends, any life worth living, is about joy.  If you miss out on joy, you miss out on life itself.  Joy is not the opposite of sacrifice.  This story suggests that the whole point of life is to find something so precious that you are willing joyfully to give “absolutely everything you have” in order to possess it.

            Paul talks to the Philippians, and he says, “Whatever gain I had I count as loss for the sake of Christ.”  Then he says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  Saint Augustine who late in his life would come to a living encounter with Jesus Christ, said, “What I feared to be parted from was now a joy to surrender.”  Have you found your pearl of great price?  Or are you still living a life filled to overflowing with “lesser pearls?”

            Let me finish with a parable about a parable.  I came upon it years ago, written by that Methodist minister who used to write for the Upper Room, Maxie Dunham.  Here is the parable:

“I want this pearl.  How much is it?”

“Well,” the seller says, “it’s very expensive.”

“But how much?” I ask.

“Well, a very large amount.”

“Do you think that I could buy it?”

“Oh, of course,” he says, “everyone can buy it.”

“But, didn’t you say it was very expensive?”

“Yes.”

“Well, how much is it?”

“Everything you have,” says the seller.

“All right, I’ll buy it,” I say.

“Well, what do you have?” he wants to know. “Let’s write it down.”

“Well, I have a hundred thirty-seven thousand dollars in the bank.”

“Good, a hundred thirty-seven thousand dollars. What else?”

“That’s all. That’s all I have.”

“Nothing more?”

“Well, I have a few dollars here in my pocket for lunch.”

“How much?”

 I start digging.  “Well, let’s see – thirty, forty, sixty, eighty, a hundred, a hundred twenty dollars.”

“That’s fine.  What else do you have?”

“Well, nothing.  That’s all.”

“Where do you live?” he asks, still probing.

“In my house. Yes, I have a house.”

“The house, too, then.”  He writes that down.

“You mean I have to live in my camper?”

“You have a camper?  You didn’t tell me that!  That too!  What else?”

“Are you telling me I need to sleep in my car!?”

“You have a car?”

“I have two of them.”

“Both become mine, both cars.  What else?”

“Well, you already have my money, my house, my camper, my cars. What more do you want?”

“Are you alone in this world?”

“No, I have a wife and two children…”

“Oh, yes, your wife, and your children too.  What else?”

“I have nothing left!  I am left alone now.”

Suddenly the seller exclaims, “Oh, I almost forgot! You yourself, too!  Everything becomes mine – your wife, your children, your house, your money, your cars – and you too.” 

Then he goes on.  “Now listen, I’m going to allow you to use all these things for the time being. But don’t forget, don’t ever forget, that they are mine, all mine, just as you are all mine.  And whenever I need any of them, you must give them up, because now I am the owner.”

            Costly?  You bet.  But what is costly is also priceless.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the life it promises is a bargain at any price.

                                                                                    Amen.

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