Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Week 17 Wednesday (Year 2)

Readings: Jeremiah 15:10, 16-21; Psalm 59; Matthew 13:44-46

These briefest of parables have something of the character of the koan. In Zen Buddhism the koan is a way of philosophical or religious teaching, usually a one-liner, which at first sight is puzzling, strange, perhaps even absurd. The wisdom packed into these short teachings does not surrender itself to ordinary thinking but only to a certain kind of meditation. The obvious meaning may turn out to be quite superficial compared with what is learned by chewing on them for a bit, perhaps for a long time.

One thing seems clear: finding these parables related in the middle of Jesus' public ministry encourages us to think that the kingdom of heaven, which he has come to preach and to establish, is more valuable than anything else we can imagine. That seems straightforward enough. But the treasure that is the kingdom can be found by different people in different ways. The treasure hidden in the field seems to be found by chance. We are not told that the person who found it was hunting for treasure, just that he happened to come upon it. The merchant, on the other hand, found the pearl of great price in the course of his work. We are told that he was searching for fine pearls. There is no one pattern to the ways in which God is found by people.

Or perhaps it is more true to say 'there is no one pattern to the ways in which God finds people'. What if God is the main actor in each of these parables? He is the man who finds the treasure hidden in the field (remember the parable of the sower - perhaps beneath the unpromising soil God can still find treasure). He is the merchant who is seeking us, wanting us at our best, as it were, seeing a value in us that we do not see ourselves.

If we think first of our own searching - thinking first of ourselves comes so naturally to us - then we are assuming that we know what the treasure will be like: we know already what is valuable and we will only have to see it to recognise it. But what if in the course of our living we realise that the treasure is beyond us - God is our treasure and we do not know what God is. We need to receive the treasure and we need to be prepared for receiving the treasure. We need the desire for it to be given to us - 'set your heart on things that are above', 'store up treasure for yourself in heaven': how on earth are we supposed to know what is (as we are told elsewhere) beyond the eye, ear and heart of human beings?

The reading from Jeremiah reminds us of other aspects of treasure hunting when the treasure in question is God. Jeremiah must walk the same road as the people in relation to God if he is to be an authoritative preacher to them. He must know what he is talking about, which means he must know also what he is asking of them, the kind of conversion to which his words are calling them. It is as if he has become the enemy of God (or God has become his enemy) but this, in so many different ways, is always a moment in walking with God. The one who stands firm in this moment of testing is one to whom the people will then come. The one whose desire has been recreated in the crucible of God's love becomes a magnet for those who are lost in their search. When they have thrown at him everything they can muster, and he still stands, then they come to him, they seek him out.

Jeremiah is a type of Jesus, anticipating in many ways the experiences and sufferings of Jesus. He anticipates Jesus in his teaching about the divine love - 'I will be found by you', 'I have loved you with an everlasting love', 'I have drawn you with unfailing kindness'. Once again it is unclear: who is the searcher and who is the one found? Who is the one who finds the treasure in the field? Who is the merchant who finds, at last, a pearl of great price. Are we the ones doing the finding? Or are we the ones who are, finally, found?

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