Monday, August 17, 2015

The better gold is the one we didn't earn or even deserve:


Golden Barley Field
You don't have to be a grownup to understand the story of the treasure in the field. Let's suppose a group of children agreed to share their trick-or-treat profits. They will make the rounds separately, but at the end they will empty their bags and divide the loot. Now let's suppose that one 8-year-old finds a $5 bill in his bag. He knows enough to remove it before the general emptying. He knows the $5 bill is a good thing, that it is beyond the expectation for such an occasion, and certainly would not be overlooked at sharing time, so he puts it in his pocket. That is how we operate. Jesus is not saying that it's bad, nor that it's good. He's saying the kingdom of heaven is like that.

What does that mean? The man in the parable placed a great deal of value on what he found in that field. He did not expect to find it. Suddenly it was there. Jesus says he was delighted with it. He valued it so much he buried it, then went and bought the field. The point of the parable is, what would delight us like that? The answer Jesus expects is eternal life. That's why He says The kingdom of heaven is like this. Nothing makes life quite so sweet as the prospect that death is only the beginning of something better. The sun shines brighter, food tastes better, water is sweeter, sleep is more refreshing when you look forward to a happy eternity. That's the great treasure, not just in Jesus' time but now as well. All of Mammon's goodies can't come close. Our old friend, the planet earth, is marked for destruction, not because of global warming -- after all the sign of the rainbow meant that God would never again use water to destroy all flesh, but the planet is on borrowed time. Spirituality is no help unless it is connected to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The devil is also a spirit.

Now what did the man in the parable do? He sold everything he had to buy that field. There's the rub, isn't it? We know the cost of the field, therefore we know that we lack sufficient assets to purchase it, or sufficient equity to provide collateral for it. The only acceptable equity is righteousness, and of that commodity we are terribly short. We cannot buy this treasure, but would God be willing to lend it to us? No need for that. He made it a Christmas gift. He arranged for His Son to become incarnate, to fight the battle for our liberation through obedience, temptation, and suffering.

The Gospel assures us that Jesus gives all the benefits of His victory to those who trust Him. We might not be able to own the field, because unlike the man in the parable, we have no assets to convert. We have no control over the world or anything in it. Everything we see is on loan, to be returned at the Owner's demand, but the answer is, God still offers us the treasure. That's the position in which we find ourselves. So is there anything we can do that corresponds to buying the field? God challenges us instead to believe that the most important things are free, not only free but available now. The New Jerusalem is built and ready for permanent habitation. It is beautiful, comfortable, and completely secure. Maybe He isn't ready for us to move there just yet, but He wants us to think of it as home. We are citizens first and foremost of the kingdom of God. We can begin by trusting God for material things, putting away anxiety, withdrawing from the rat race, depending on One who is utterly dependable.

In this sense, trusting in Jesus corresponds to buying the field, even though it is free. Faith in Jesus makes our treasure available to us the way buying the field made the treasure in the parable available. It assures us of peace with God. Furthermore, it is important to nourish and maintain that trust by receiving Absolution for our sins, and the Sacrament of Christ's body and blood. We cultivate that faith by daily repentance, hearing the Word of God, reaffirming daily the reality that Jesus died and rose again.

The devil hates this. He tries to convince us that "reality" is the bus on the corner, the smog over the city, the baby crying, the terror stories in the news, whatever will lead us to cynicism and skepticism. Those things are real, to be sure, but they are the smallest part of reality. They're not the most important part. The most important part is that God planned everything to come out right, then carried out the plan, although at great cost to Himself. He is the Owner and the Giver. The Apostle tells us it is more blessed to give than to receive. God is blessed above all, for He gives all, and because His Holy Spirit conforms us to the image of His Son, we can also give. The difference is first we have to receive a lot. We give only what we have been given. By grace, the source of all good is secure, and flows forever, so we can trust Him for it all. AMEN.

~ Rev. Lloyd E. Gross

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