The Treasure of Salvation
Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
Shackled together with leg irons, they scrambled across a field of tobacco, diving down into the leafy plants every 3rd or 4th row in order to avoid the watchful eye of the mounted armed guard.
Our unlikely heroes are determined to escape. They are literally bound together – chained together- in their quest for a great treasure. 1.2 million dollars buried in a valley. A valley that is scheduled to be flooded in 4 days as part of the great rural electrification plan of the 1930s. Liberating themselves from the work farm prison in Mississippi, Delmar, Pete, and Everett begin their quest for their treasure.
Early on their journey, this trio encounters a prophet- a blind Oracle:
And though the road
may wind, and yea, your hearts grow
weary, still shall ye foller the
way, even unto your salvation.
He tells them they will not find the treasure they seek but they will find another treasure that will lead them to their salvation. Salvation was not the treasure the travelers set out for in O Brother Where Art Thou. Or was it?
We read in Matthew that after Jesus was baptized and returned from his trial in the wilderness he began his public ministry. He began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”The Kingdom has come near. Jesus travels all about the area and continues to make that proclamation and backs it up with acts of healing and love and grace. Repent the kingdom has come near. Change your direction, change your thinking. The kingdom is here.
In our scripture today Jesus talks first to a large crowd and then only to his disciples. He offers parables about the kingdom of heaven:
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure.
The kingdom of heaven is like a net.
We are given all sorts of clues about the nature of the kingdom of God. All sorts of clues about the treasure we are seeking. Today, as we hear these verses, I want us to consider:
How will you know the treasure when you find it?
Camped out around a fire one night, Everett asked his companions, “What are you going to do with your share of the treasure?”
Pete wants to own a restaurant to be the maitre’d. He wants to go to work everyday in a bow tie and tuxedo and have people say yes sir and no sir, and get all his meals for free. He wants to be treated with respect and dignity, he wants to be valued and maybe even envied by others. He wants to feel his worth, to be set free from the prejudices and poverty that have followed him his whole life.
Delmar wants to pay the back taxes–to slap that money down in front of those foreclosing sons-of-guns and buy back the family farm. A man ain’t worth nothing if he ain’t got land. He wants to feel worthy to feel whole on the land of his people. He wants to be restored.
And Everett? Well, he doesn’t answer his own question.
After many escapades and adventures we find out there is no money. Everett’s wife is divorcing him and marrying another. Everett’s treasure is his family and he risks his freedom and the freedom of his friends to obtain that treasure. He is seeking wholeness and salvation just like the others. Just like all of us.
Their treasure is not about being wealthy, or having a large bank account. For them, it is restoration, reconciliacion, and healing. Healing from the injuries and insults inflicted on them by poverty and culture. They are seeking salvation.
Traditionally we interpret these brief parables as clues to the nature of the kingdom and a picture of an appropriate response to the kingdom: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and reburied; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
The one who found the treasure joyfully sold all that was theirs so that they could possess the treasure. How did they know it was a treasure? How do we recognize the kingdom of God when we find it? It is like a mustard seed- it starts small and insignificant and finds its way in to the mix and then grows and grows -like kudzu. It is like yeast. It becomes part of the flour, corrupting its pristine essence and changing it to something that rises and grows. It is like a net. It gathers up everything. All are included. The kingdom of God is invasive and transformative and inclusive.
The treasure surprises us with its ordinariness. And yet it is worth all that we have and all that we are. It is ordinary and everywhere and leaves no one out. It is all around. The kingdom of God is not a place or a destination. It is where and when God reigns. It is where and when healing occurs. It is salvation. It is here now and it is coming. The already and the not yet.
Jesus has ushered in the Kingdom, and when Jesus returns the Kingdom will be fully realized. The kingdom is coming and it is here now. The kingdom is here now. In the everyday ordinariness of life we can find the treasure.
I was raised in church in the Bible belt and while I don’t remember anyone saying this outright I always thought that the kingdom of God, heaven, was that place we GO TO after we die. PERIOD. We would sing, “I’ve Got a Mansion Just Over the Hilltop in that bright land where we’ll never grow old, And someday yonder we will nevermore wander, but walk the streets that are purest gold.” Heaven was a place up in the sky where Jesus lived. There may be some verses in Revelation that imply that understanding, but these parables offer a contrasting understanding of the kingdom.
How will you know the treasure when you see it? Surely you will recognize God’s handwork and presence. In the beauty of the mountains and the expanse of the seas. In the little child and the old man. In every place you go and everyone you see, you see the kingdom of God.
The kingdom is here. In the beautiful, expansive, littered mountains and the oceans with its islands of trash. The child in living in poverty; the elderly in living in isolation; the one in addiction. The kingdom is all around.
What will you give up to possess this surprising treasure of the kingdom?
Will you give yourself away to the often ordinary, sometimes unpleasant surprising treasure of God’s kingdom? The kingdom that doesn’t look like you thought it would. The kingdom that offers restoration and reconciliation. The treasure of salvation.