44 "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
- Matthew 13:44-46
Here again the stories are obvious and easy to understand.
- In the parable of the treasure, the man working in a field is probably a hired worker or someone sub-contracting the land for farming, or someone assessing land for a purchase. He finds a treasure by accident. It is so precious that he sells all he has in order to buy the field and become the legal owner of the treasure.
- In the parable of the pearl, the person is a merchant who is deliberately seeking fine pearls. Like all precious jewelry it requires knowledge and training to spot and evaluate the true value of these items - especially pearls. In his search he finds not only a good pearl, but one of such exceptional beauty and value that he sells all that he has in order to own it.
These stories are basically the same except one person finds a treasure by accident and the other was actually looking for it. However, both find treasures and both give up all they have in order to posses the treasure they have found. Simple stories with happy endings, but for those who were listening with an ear to understand, a few more facts about the kingdom were revealed:
1. The Kingdom is Not Obvious to Everyone.
Sometimes you find it without expecting to. For example, someone shares the gospel with you or, in a moment of difficulty, you find the Lord. Perhaps you read the Bible or some other book that leads you to Christ. Sometimes you go through a long period of searching going from one church to another and spend time praying for God to lead you. Many talk to people about religion or spiritual things looking for … truth, God, whatever. The kingdom is there but most people are oblivious to it.
They see a field, not the treasure. They see clams, not pearls. They see religion and church buildings, but not the living Christ.
2. The Kingdom is Worth Everything You Have.
Note that both persons liquidated everything they had in order to posses the treasure, the pearl. They did this in order to become wealthier than they already were. The kingdom is like that. In order to enter in you need to leave everything behind.
- Your former beliefs for exclusive faith in Christ.
- Your former goals and dreams for the goal of heaven and righteousness.
- Your sins and worldly pleasures in order to maintain fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
However, whatever you leave behind (good or bad) the Lord will bless you one hundred times over in the kingdom. The kingdom provides peace, joy, confidence in salvation, freedom from death and condemnation, and most importantly the sweet experience of knowing and serving the Lord. The kingdom is not obvious to everyone but if you find it, it is worth giving up your life to possess it.
The Parable of the Debt
This parable was spoken at a time when the Apostles were keenly interested in life within the kingdom. They were grappling with Jesus' teaching about the kingdom and for the most part believed that the kingdom that Jesus spoke of was to be some kind of earthly domain. This matched the common hope that the Messiah would usher in a golden period of power and prosperity for the entire Jewish nation.
Up to this point the Apostles saw themselves as co-rulers with Christ in an earthly kingdom that resembled the worldly kingdoms that existed at that time. This is why a little before this parable they ask Jesus who among them would be the greatest in His kingdom (they desired position and honor from men). Of course Jesus answers them by saying that the greatest in the kingdom are the least, those who are like children.
After this the Lord explains to them another characteristic of those who are in His Kingdom, the ability to forgive and the need to maintain unity by being reconciled to brothers we offend or who offend us. At this point Peter, wishing to show that he is leadership material for the kingdom, asks a question about forgiveness. That sets the stage for the parable about the debt in Matthew 18:21-22,
21 Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
In Jewish culture the maximum times you needed to forgive if asked was 3 times. Peter, wanting to show he had potential to be a leader in the kingdom, says that he's prepared to forgive seven times. Jesus responds that forgiving a limited or set number of times is forgiveness according to rules and law; in the kingdom forgiveness is a natural characteristic (70x7= infinity). As many times as required and as much forgiveness as needed, this is how much you offer. Jesus then gives this parable to demonstrate the magnitude of forgiveness available in the kingdom and the attitude one must have as a citizen of the kingdom.
23 For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.
A slave in a high stewardship position has made bad investments or lost his master's money in some way. The amount is staggering (10 - 20 million today).
25 But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
The lord had complete power over him and the judgement was fair since he had been entrusted with a fortune and lost it. He pleads to have a chance to repay (which was impossible) in order to avoid punishment. The master, feeling compassion, goes one great step further, he forgives him the debt. This is exactly what the idea of forgiveness means: to pay off another's debt to you. The master also returns the slave to his former position of responsibility.
28 But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
The same scenario repeats itself but this time another slave who owes 100 denarii ($20.00) asks the former slave for mercy in repaying the debt. His pleas fall on deaf ears, and the slave is cast into prison by the former slave.
31 So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
This conduct is reported to the master who rebukes his unforgiving servant for being so hard hearted, especially after receiving such mercy from his master for a debt that he was incapable of paying. This time he is put in prison and tortured until all is repaid.
35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."
Jesus now speaks directly to His disciples. He summarizes the parable by warning them that if their forgiveness is not sincere for their brethren - they also (who have been forgiven by God) will receive the punishment they originally escaped.
There are several things we learn about the kingdom in this parable:
1. Offenses are Possible in the Kingdom
The kingdom, as it exists here on earth in the form of the church, has not yet been perfected in glory, and so there are still many problems caused by sin. People offend and hurt each other intentionally or by mistake. Some hurts are huge and others are small, but either way someone is offended and someone has to make that right.
People who are offended and discouraged, or criticize the church because it is imperfect need to understand that there will always be sin and hurt in the church because it is filled with sinners who are in the process of becoming saintly. Jesus acknowledges that from time to time we will be in debt to each other for various things.
2. Mercy is the Answer
In the world we look for justice, fairness or compensation to take care of offenses and mistakes. In the kingdom, mercy is the solution and normal response to offenses and mistakes. We must remember that it was God's mercy that allowed us entry into the kingdom in the first place - not justice, fairness or compensation. God so loved us that He gave up His Son, Jesus, in order to offer us forgiveness for every sin great and small and welcome us into His kingdom.
3. Mercy is our Guarantee
God's mercy guarantees us a place in the kingdom, and our mercy toward others guarantees that we will keep our place in His kingdom. However, if we don't show mercy to our brethren for their offenses against us then our lack of mercy will guarantee that we will lose our place in the kingdom.
The Lord adds more pieces to this puzzle about the "kingdom." The kingdom is not easy to find, but once you have found it it is worth all you have to possess it. Those in the kingdom are rich in spiritual treasure. There are growing pains in the kingdom and the basic virtue that guarantees your place and your growth is mercy because it reflects perfectly God's nature and involvement in your own life.
Many church buildings are built to be functional, comfortable and pleasing to the eye. If, however, people who go to them do not find the church pleasing to their hearts as well as their eyes, they will not stay.
A church that is pleasing to the heart is a church full of mercy and kindness for those who have made big mistakes in life. Let us make sure that God is glorified not only with the building we build and maintain, but also by the love and mercy that exists within that building.