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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Sell Everything

Image source.

In Matthew 13:44-58, we have a few parables, then Jesus' rejection in his hometown.

The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl

These two parables are basically the same idea. In the first one, a man found treasure in a field, and sold all he had and bought the field. In the second, a man found a very valuable pearl, and sold all he had to buy the pearl.

(These parables are the same, right? Or is there some subtle difference in what each of them is trying to communicate?)

And I'm just now realizing I've always misinterpreted these 2 parables. See, the treasure and the pearl are supposed to represent the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus says it's worth it to sell all you have- with great joy- in order to get involved with the kingdom of heaven.

I used to think the treasure and pearl symbolized Jesus, or a personal relationship with God. And certainly in other places, the bible says it's worth all you have to know Christ.  But that's not what these particular parables say.

Selling all you have in order to find the kingdom of heaven and be part of it. And what is the kingdom of heaven? Well, as I've said before, I believe it's God's work and God's people both on earth and in heaven. It's justice and freedom and healing and forgiveness and love. It's "the first will be last and the last will be first." It's feeding the hungry, helping the poor, setting the captives free. It's following Christ's example.

So perhaps the message of the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl is that this is worth all you have. Dedicate your life to bringing God's kingdom to this earth. Partner with Jesus to fight the evils in this world and restore everything to the way God intended. Help people. Love the world.

Which is far different from "give all you have to get Jesus." I definitely believe Jesus brings dramatic transformation to one's individual life, and I've experienced that (and highly recommend it!)- and perhaps this is the first step towards working for the kingdom of God. But the kingdom of God is far bigger than my own individual life.

The Parable of the Fish in the Net

The next parable about the kingdom of heaven describes a net catching many fish, and then the fishermen sort them into good and bad. Similarly, Jesus says, there will be a final judgment, and "The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Umm. So, I don't like that. I've mentioned before that I really really REALLY don't want to believe in hell. (For lots of reasons, which I'll probably put in a blog post someday.) But it sounds like Jesus is talking about hell here. So, umm, apply the brakes to my not-believing-in-hell thing.

BUT. This passage does NOT say hell is infinite torture. It does NOT say hell is eternal. It does NOT say everyone in hell gets punished equally. It does NOT say the criteria for heaven or hell is believing the correct religion.

It says the "wicked" will be separated from the "righteous." What does traditional Christian teaching about "you can't earn your salvation" and "saved by faith alone" have to say about that?

So I will continue to stubbornly cling to my skepticism abut hell, until I get these questions answered. Because really, it doesn't make sense.

Because how do we integrate these 2 teachings about the kingdom of heaven found in this passage? It's worth sacrificing all you have, to help others and restore the world to the way God intended it. Oh, but some people don't make the cut, so screw them.

Uh... Ideas, anyone?

Bringing out of the Storeroom

The last parable is, "Therefore 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 new treasures as well as old."

Sounds like the kingdom of heaven preserves some old things and introduces new things. Sounds pretty good. (Yes? If anyone has another interpretation of this parable, let me know.)

Rejected

So Jesus goes to his hometown and starts preaching, and people don't really take him seriously because come on, we know his family and where he came from, how can he be something special? 
I mean, he's a carpenter, remember? Image source.

"And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith." A long time ago, I found this to be a very puzzling statement. Why not do miracles? That should convince them, right? Or is it saying that these people are so stubborn that they won't pay attention to any miracles? Or is is saying that Jesus' "miracles" were just tricks for gullible people, and those who lacked "faith" wouldn't be fooled?

But now I see it completely different. Everybody believes what they believe for a TON of reasons. A lot of people have a lifetime of experience following a certain religion, and you're not going to change that in a day, with a couple miracles. (You're not going to change that in one online argument either.)

Some people are at a stage in their life where they're unsure about what they believe and they're looking for answers. Those are the people who will be convinced by miracles. The people who at least had enough faith to investigate who Jesus was.

So if the people in Jesus' hometown have a deeply internalized view that says Jesus can't be anything special, well, it's not like he can change that so fast. It's a change that can happen gradually, and maybe doing some miracles right then and there wouldn't help at all.

Soooooooo the moral of the story is to be realistic. If someone believes something that's wrong or even harmful, you're not going to change their mind in some sudden display of force. It has to be gradual. You have to respect them.

And as for the summary of this passage: Give all you have for the kingdom of God. Perfect Number is confused about hell. And people's beliefs are deep and complicated. :)

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Jesus and Gardening (Matthew 13:24-43)

Next post: Pro Tip: Beheading People is Wrong (Matthew 14:1-12)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

4 comments:

  1. I like the story of the store room. It makes me think of sharing wisdom learned in new and old seasons of life.

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  2. Yeah, I think it totally makes sense that Jesus did not spend time doing miracles for people who He knew didn't believe in Him. For one thing, people who think they already know what's true are going to write off every miracle as a coincidence or misunderstanding -- just as happens now. And for another, Jesus gets frustrated elsewhere in the Gospels with people who just keep wanting him to do miracles, as if they were magic tricks, while ignoring his teachings.

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