The Value of the Kingdom of Heaven

Rev’d Sandra Kjellgren reflects on the Gospel passage for the day .

+In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank you for your holy Word to guide us day by day. Enable us to receive your message this morning that your ways may be our ways – and your thoughts our thoughts, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Please be seated]

Good morning everyone! How good it is to be here with you today as we receive the Word of God from the Gospel according to St Matthew Chapter 13 verses 44 to 58.

Jesus is teaching more about the value of the Kingdom of Heaven. And I believe it is helpful for us to bear in mind that the people of God had heard about the kingdom before, but now they are hearing about it in a new and revolutionary way, as Jesus reveals more and the kingdom of heaven starts to come to light.

Jesus says “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that lays hidden in a field. Someone found it and hid it and in great delight went off and sold everything he had and bought that field.”

And “the kingdom of heaven is like a trader who was looking for fine pearls and who found one that was spectacularly valuable. So he went and sold everything that he had and bought that pearl.”

In the ancient world there were financial institutions – but not banks in the way that we understand them today. Ordinary people used to bury their valuables in the ground as they believed that was the safest place to keep their most cherished belongings. There was a rabbinic saying that “the only one safe place for your wealth is in the earth”.

Palestine was probably one of the most fought over countries in the world and when the tide of war threatened once again – it was common practice for people to hide their valuables in the ground and take flight to safety – hoping to be able to return when warfare was over – and regain their valuables.

The Jewish historian Josephus writes in his work The Antiquities of the Jews “The gold and the silver and the rest of that most precious furniture which the Jews had, and which the owners treasured up underground – against the uncertain fortunes of war”.

In 1876 in the city of Sidon, in what is now Lebanon, there was a famous avenue of acacia trees. Some workmen were digging in a garden on that avenue and came across several copper pots full of gold coins. The coins turned out to be the coins of Alexander the Great and his father Philip.

Historians tell us that when Alexander died unexpectedly in Babylon, news came through to Sidon. Knowing that there would be an outbreak of political turmoil when the news of Alexander’s death spread further, a Macedonian government official buried the coins with the intention of retrieving them in the midst of the oncoming inevitable chaos to follow upon news of Alexander’s death. The official did not get the opportunity to retrieve the coins so they were left to be found by unsuspecting workmen many hundreds of years later.

The point of the parable, of a man finding a treasure hidden in a field, is that it was a great surprise and everything else became subservient to the joy of obtaining the treasure. Jesus explains that the Kingdom of Heaven is more valuable than anything we could possibly imagine and for which no sacrifice is too great. The person who discovered the treasure hidden in the field stumbled upon it by accident – but knew its value when he found it.

In the second parable, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a pearl of great price as he describes a merchant searching for rare and precious pearls. When the merchant comes across a pearl of outstanding value he sells all that he had in order to obtain that single pearl. (44, 46).

The point of these parables lies in the nature and actions of those who discover the treasure. The man who discovered the treasure in the field by accident and the merchant who found the precious pearl after seeking for it – are both the same in that they recognised the value of their discovery.

A person may stumble across the kingdom without really seeking it, whilst another person may search for it through all sorts of substitutes before successfully finding it.

St Augustine of Hippo give us a great example of this experience from his own life. Augustine spent years seeking after the Kingdom and when he eventually discovered it, went on to become one of the great Christian theologians of the age. The writings of St Augustine of Hippo have informed Christian Theology and Western Philosophy throughout the ages.
He was born Aurelius Augustinus in the year 354CE in Thagaste, Numidia, Northern Africa when it was a part of the Roman Empire. Augustine’s mother, Monica, was a devout Christian. However his father Patricius, a town official – was a pagan and had no time at all for Christianity.

Monica entered the young Augustine into the catechumenate in his younger years in order for him to be baptised into the Christian faith, however Augustine rejected baptism. We do not know whether his rejection of baptism was due to the influence of his unbelieving father – or not.

What we do know is that he went on to be an outstanding scholar in studies of Latin Literature, Rhetoric and Greek at Thagaste, Madauros and Carthage. It was in the midst of an intellectual and moral crisis in his life that Augustine read Cicero’s Hortensius which drove him with a burning desire in his heart to seek after wisdom and truth.

He joined a Manichaean Sect and studied with them for 9 years before dabbling with Stoicism and then going on to study Neo-Platonism. Eventually travelling to Rome, Augustine became incredibly discouraged by his failure to discover the truth – that knowledge that would satisfy the burning desire for wisdom and truth he felt in his heart and his soul.

He successfully competed for the municipal Chair of Rhetoric in Milan and moved there in 384CE where he was soon joined by his long suffering Christian mother Monica, who constantly prayed for his conversion to Christianity.

Feeling particularly conflicted one day, Augustine went to the Cathedral of Milan when Ambrose, the Archbishop of Milan was preaching. He became enthralled with Ambrose’s presentation of the faith and long story short – Augustine found the truth at last and after studying with Ambrose, was baptised by him at the Easter Vigil in Milan in the year 387CE at 31 years of age. He famously wrote the words “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.” He also wrote in His “Confessions” “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is ever restless until it finds its rest in you.”

After many years of searching, studying, seeking after Truth in all sorts of academic and philosophical pursuits, Augustine finally found his Pearl of Great Price in the Cathedral of Milan.

Now as exciting as it is that Augustine achieves his quest for wisdom and truth – the most important thing about his story is that once he found the pearl of great price – which was like a treasure hidden in a field – he did not keep it for himself alone. When Augustine committed to the faith – he went on to become ordained and consecrated Bishop, writing on the faith prolifically. His work de Trinitate – On the Trinity – assisted to inform the great debates of the early Church in the formation of the Nicene Creed.

In Jesus’ parable of the fishing net we see it has the same meaning as the parable of the wheat and the weeds that we heard last week. There will be a great harvest of the sea – but it will be a mixed catch – to be sorted out at the close of the age – by those who are infinitely more qualified to do the sorting than human beings.

And He asks his disciples “Have you understood all of these things?” “Yes” they reply. “Therefore” says Jesus, “Every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom treasures new and old.” Vss.51, 52.

These verses show the importance of understanding on the part of the disciples. For those who have understood are like scribes (having knowledge of the law of the Old Testament) and who have been trained for the kingdom of heaven as instructed by Jesus.

Anyone who understands God’s real purpose in the law as revealed in the Old Testament has a real treasure. The Old Testament points the way to Jesus, the Messiah. And in Matthew Chapter 5 verse 17 Jesus says “I did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I have come to fulfil them.’ Jesus fulfils and embodies both the law and the prophets within himself as he ensures that his disciples, and all of us, understand that He alone is the One who binds together the ancient truths of the Old Testament and the Truths of his Messianic teachings. They are like new and old treasures, highly valued by the owner of the house.

The New Testament does not do away with the Old Testament, it builds upon it and fulfils it – magnifying and clarifying that which was hidden in such a way that a beautiful masterpiece is painted, and which shows us a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our lesson ended here on such a positive note. However, the lesson does continue and we are told that Jesus encounters quite different reactions to his ministry when he visits his hometown in Nazareth.

Jesus demonstrated without doubt that He is worthy of glory, honour and praise, during his ministry but sadly not everyone showed him respect or gave him honour. In Nazareth, some people rejected Jesus and said “This is just Jesus. We know him – we know his family – and they took offence at him ” leading Jesus to say “A prophet is not without honour – except in his own home town and in his own household.”

And verse 58 tells us “He did not do many miracles there (in Nazareth) because of their unbelief.”

How utterly tragic that the people of Nazareth missed out on the wonderful blessings of Jesus because of their unbelief and the lack of welcome they offered him. Yet, sadly we know from the Gospels, this was not the only time Jesus would be rejected on account of people’s unbelief and lack of understanding.

However, the good news for all of us my friends is that the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ assures each and every one of us that the Kingdom of Heaven is very real indeed – and we are welcome there. The Lord himself has promised us in the Gospel according to St John, that he will welcome us home to be with him in heaven when Jesus says “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you and I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. And you know the place where I am going. Thomas said to him, ‘Lord we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way? And Jesus Answered “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14.1-6)

Let us pray:
Loving God, we thank you for the gift of faith.
Strengthen the faith of us who believe and sow the seed of faith in the hearts of those who lack faith.
Give us grace to share our faith and teach us by your Holy Spirit to walk in it always reliant on your promises. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.