Earlier this year, I read a book about the Lewis & Clark expedition to the Pacific Ocean in the early 1800s. One of the many things I learned from that very interesting work was the practice of the members of the expedition to leave caches of food, supplies and weaponry along the trail as they traveled from the Mississippi River westward.
As you likely know, a cache is simply a hidden collection of items stored in an out of the way place for safe keeping. The expectation is that the person who has stored the items will return one day to unearth those same things and put them to good use. In the case of the Lewis & Clark journey, once they reached the Pacific, they knew that they would be retracing their steps as they made the journey home. So, in order to both lighten their load and to have provisions available for the return trip, they buried various treasures along the way as they went. (Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, 1997)
Something similar evidently happened in Biblical times. The land of Israel was in many ways an in-between land. Two great empires existed to both the North and the South with the Babylonians north of Israel and the Egyptians south of Israel. What resulted from this geography was Israel as a land that was constantly being fought over as the people were regularly overrun by invaders from one or the other of these two world powers. In turn, in a day without banks, safes or a good storage space that one could rent by the month, the Israelites also left caches behind during periods of invasion with the expectation that one day they would return home, dig up their prized possessions and be able to use them again. In their mind, for the time being, the earth was as safe a place as any to bury their treasures.
As a result of this history, the story that Jesus tells in our text for today of a man who finds a treasure in a field wasn’t just the stuff of legend or fairy tales it was a real occurrence that people of the day would have understood.
In fact, this type of event was such a real experience in every day life that the Jewish people even had a law connected to this type of moment. It said that if one bought a piece of property, whatever contents the buyer discovered in the ground after the purchase legally belonged to the new property owner. If such a discovery was made, these treasures of the past did not revert to the burier of the items but rather staid with the buyer of the field.
In Matthew 13:44, our text for today, Jesus tells a story about one of these moments. A man is apparently working in a field. As he does, he unearths just such a treasure and then quickly reburies it before going to buy the field which the text says he purchased with “great joy”.
Of course, this is not just a great story or history lesson about an interesting little nuance of how life once worked in ancient Israel. Instead, again, this is a parable. Jesus shares the story to instruct both his hearers then and you and I now about what the kingdom of God is like. As with all of the parables, there are multiple layers of meaning here. Yet for our brief time together this morning, I want to center on one way to read the text and invite us to wrestle with this point for just a few moments.
At least in part, this story of a hidden treasure found in a field is a reminder that there are treasurers of great value all around us waiting for us to discover. The question is do we have both the eyes to see them and the wherewithal and wisdom to truly give our lives over to them? Again, in the story, the man both has the ability to recognize the treasure for what it is and the wisdom to quickly give his energy to it.
On the one hand, just like last week, the is a hopeful story. After all, it makes the point that so often the best of things are found right underneath our noses. So often, it isn’t so much that we could one day have the good things of life but rather the truth is often times that we can have the kind of life we want right now if we have the eyes to see what is true right in front of us.
On the other hand, this is also a story of challenge. For, once we identify the treasure or the treasures in our midst, we have to be willing to shift our attention, our time and our resources to those things. Once the treasure or treasures are identified, we have to reprioritize.
These are such needed lessons in our lives. Consider the treasure of our relationship with the Lord, the value of family, the blessing of health, the capacity to have deep friendships or the gift of church just to name a few. All of these, and other blessings like them are right here, all around us yet so often they get buried underneath other things or we just simply out and out forget their true value. When that happens, we make the mistake of giving ourselves, our energies and the best of who we are to the wrong things.
In 1979, the Rose Hill Boys Home in Manchester, England needed to raise some funds. The heart of that home for boys was an old estate that included some of its original furnishings and art work. One thought was to see if any of that old furniture or art had any value. One piece tagged for consideration was a painting of an iceberg that sat gathering dust and that most who lived or worked on the property regarded as a nuisance and an eye sore. Over time, however, what they discovered was that this seemingly worthless painting was actually a lost masterpiece by a famous American painter. In the end, the painting sold in less than five seconds for two and a half million dollars or in today’s money almost ten million dollars. (U.S. Painting Sold for Record $2.5 Million, Rita Reif, October 26, 1979)
What is so challenging about this story is how it parallels Jesus’ story. Here was a priceless object seen by the people of Rose Hill every day and yet regarded as having little value or importance. In the same way, how often do we trample right over the wonders and treasurers of life unaware of what is right below our feet? Amen.