44 “The kingdom of heaven 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.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
This talk was recorded and can be heard below. The transcript follows.
It was a wet summer in the 1940s during the Blitz. Four children, brothers and sisters, have been evacuated to a large old house in the countryside owned by a professor living alone.
In the pouring rain one afternoon the children decide to explore the house. One of them, Lucy, finds her way into a bedroom which is empty except for a large wardrobe. She climbs inside pushing aside two rows of fur coats and as she steps deeper and deeper inside she finds her arms brushing against the leaves of pine trees and her feet crunching on newly laid snow and, in the light of a lamppost, apparently in the midst of a forest, she sees a very strange person, like a man with goats hooves, carrying some parcels with an umbrella over his arm….
This, of course, is a summary of the first chapter of CS Lewis’ book ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ in which Lucy finds that she has discovered an incredible other world at the back of a wardrobe – Narnia in which she will eventually meet Aslan the Christ figure in the tales of Narnia….
CS Lewis was not a professional theologian, he was a professor of English at Oxford and Cambridge, but he was a great writer of theological books ‘Mere Christianity’, ‘Surprised by Joy’ ‘the Four Loves’ are three of his best theological books and they are just amazing and life changing books written by a brilliant and inspired mind. But, although very readable, they can be quite challenging but all his theological insights are also contained in his Narnia stories. Those of you with children or grandchildren could not do better than to read these stories to them.
But which of the four parables that we have just read might have inspired this first chapter of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe that I have just described?
Well I am particularly interested in speaking today about Jesus’ two parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price.
You see there is a similarity and a difference between these two parables. I wonder if you can spot them – please do look at Matthew 13:44-46. What is the similarity between the two stories?
The similarity is the reaction of the treasure finder and the merchant: both are desperate to have what they have seen: they have got to have – the treasure in one case and the pearl in the other. In fact they are willing to give up everything that they have
to get it.
How do we feel about Jesus about Christianity about the Kingdom of God?
The desperation of the treasure finder and the merchant to get the treasure, to get the pearl have we got that? Because whether we have this reaction or not is a good litmus test of whether we have ever encountered the kingdom of heaven.
I don’t think that Jesus is expecting us to actually give up everything. He is exaggerating to make his point: which is are we so passionate, so driven by him and the kingdom that we can see ourselves in these parables?
So that’s the similarity between the two parables but what is the difference between the two stories?
The treasure finder just finds the treasure when he is not looking for it. On the other hand, the pearl trader has been looking for this treasure all his life.
Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like these two stories.
One person is carrying on his daily life, probably working on someone else’s farm carrying on the daily toil, of ploughing, sowing and reaping, year in year out, only seeking the daily rewards of payment and keep of the agricultural labourer. Then suddenly his plough hits something really hard. Perhaps it shatters. In any case the day’s work is over. So he digs down to clear the obstacle and finds a chest, full of gold…..
He can hardly contain himself. He buries the treasure again, so no-one knows about it and rushes back home to sell his house and all his possessions so that he can buy that field.
We can surmise that his family and friends (particularly his wife) think he has gone nuts.
But the farm worker knows that he has found something of incalculable worth and that he must sacrifice everything to obtain it.
I think that this is a bit like Lucy’s experience in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe: she encounters Narnia, without expecting to carrying on the normal pattern of her life; by playing in a big empty house, while the rain pours down outside.
But, in a way, the Narnia story is also like the other parable as well.
The pearl merchant is ‘in search of fine pearls’. He is on the look out for good pearls; he is on the look out for good experiences in life but never quite manages to find what he is looking for: he trades them on for something better.
But then, one day, he finds a pearl which is of such beauty that he sells all he has to buy it, not just his trading stock, but his house and fields and everything he owns because what he has found is just so much better than what he has found before.
In a way, this parable is a bit like the Narnia story as well: the children are exploring the house, pushing open doors – seeing what is inside and then finally Lucy finds something which is just beyond anything else that the cold empty house can offer – a magical world of speaking animals, of good and evil and of the answer to everything. It’s no wonder that she rushes back, excited to tell her siblings…..and, of course, they ridicule her.
There are different ways in which we encounter the Kingdom of Heaven.
Some of us come across the Kingdom of Heaven, like the farm hand who finds the treasure, although he was not looking for it.
Some of us find it in the normal run of our life, with its joys and its suffering.
Some of us find the Kingdom of Heaven in the joy of the beauty of a sunset.
I know of one vicar, a former RAF officer, who first encountered the Kingdom of Heaven in this way – flying above Belize. And of another who came to encounter the Kingdom of Heaven in the beauty of a mountain pass out skiing…
But still others are like the farm hand ploughing, sowing and reaping working towards the little rewards of human existence: the pay cheque, the promotion and the joys of parenthood when suddenly life comes to a dead halt; the plough is broken and we find ourselves wondering how on earth we will cope with the redundancy, the demotion or the bereavement.
But in that crisis, when we call out to God, we find this incredible treasure chest that we had no idea was there and then we discover that we have found something of incalculable value and we will give up everything to pursue it.
We have found indeed the pathway to eternity and we enthusiastically and passionately want to take our steps down that path, which lasts for ever and which gets better with every step.
But some of us, on the other hand have been knocking at every door to find something we cannot quite describe….we know that we are missing something as we swap one room for another
As we go through life we push on one door after another – we trade one pearl for another.
We push the door marked ‘alcohol’
the door marked ‘drugs’
the door marked ‘wealth’
the door marked ‘power’
the door marked ‘fame’
the door marked ‘class’
the door marked ‘sex’
and a number of others
but after we glimpse in the dingy light of the empty room behind that door, we discover that it really has no more appeal than the room before.
Leo Tolstoy wrote one of the greatest novels in world literature ‘War and Peace’ but he also wrote a book called ‘A Confession’ which described his search for meaning and purpose in life.
He rejected the Christianity of his childhood and left university to seek pleasure he lived for pleasure: alcohol and sex and gambling. He eventually determined to become wealthy and famous, he married and he and his wife had 13 children!
But Tolstoy was still haunted by a single question: “Is there any meaning in my life which will not be annihilated by the inevitability of death, which awaits me?”
Nicky Gumbel in his book Questions of Life writes as follows:
‘Tolstoy searched for the answer in every field of science and philosophy. As he looked around at his contemporaries, he saw that people were not facing up to the first-order questions of life (“Where did I come from?” “Where am I going?” “Who am I?” “What is life all about?”).
Eventually he found that the peasant people of Russia had been able to answer these questions through their Christian faith, and he came to realize that only in Jesus Christ do we find the answer’.
So like the pearl merchant Tolstoy pushed at every door until he found the one marked: ’Kingdom of Heaven’ and like Lucy, he stepped into another world, a journey to an eternal home. A journey which we can start now and we can be sure of our place in that eternal home, if we do start now. It’s a journey which goes on for ever and crosses even the frontier of death….
If we have not yet encountered the Kingdom of Heaven, then lets push at the door marked ‘Jesus’ to discover it; rather than wait for the possible glimpse of the eternal in the joy of the sunset or in God’s response to our scream for help in our suffering
Let’s start now on that journey….that journey which (as I say at funerals quoting from The Final Battle – the last of the Narnia Tales) ‘..is only the beginning of the real story. All [the children’s] life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before’