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Commitment: Treasures (Matthew 13:44-46)

You have to be careful about pressing the details of a parable. Jesus does not always illustrate his points with admirable characters. The unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) and the dishonest steward (Luke 16:1-9) are not role models to be followed but simply life-like characters whose stories teach a lesson. The same goes for the protagonist in his “Parable of the Hidden Treasure.” This fellow definitely is ignoring the Golden Rule when he enriches himself by exploiting a landowner's ignorance. But so what? Jesus is not talking about the moral way to conduct business. Rather, he is focusing on the kind of passionate commitment required to enter the kingdom of God. To miss the focus is to miss the point.

Commitment to the kingdom of God has always been a rare and precious commodity. In fact, commitment to anything outside oneself and one's self-interest seems contrary to the self-absorbed individualism of contemporary America. Former Secretary of Education William Bennett once attended a modern wedding where the bride and groom pledged in their wedding vows to remain together "as long as love shall last." "I sent paper plates as my wedding gift," Bennett remarked.

Someone has observed that truth is not necessarily the most powerful thing in the world. Sacrifice and commitment count for more than truth, however eloquently expressed, because people will generally follow example over advice. Albert Schweitzer, the musicologist, theologian, and physician who won a Nobel Peace Prize for devoting his life to serving the poor in Africa, wrote that "Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it is the only thing."

The two treasure parables that Jesus tells are not really about the search for truth or enlightenment per se. While the discovery of the precious pearl resullts from purposeful effort, the treasure hidden in the field is an accidental bonanza. These parables focus mainly on how the lucky finders react once they discover the treasures, not on how they happen to find them. And how they react is a reflection of both their character and their commitment.

Some, like the pious young man (aka the Rich Young Ruler) in Matthew 19:16-24 and Luke 18:18-30, blanch at the prospect of gung-ho commitment if it implies losing financial security. But there doesn’t seem to be a pragmatic bone in Jesus’s body. Those who would possess the kingdom of God must be ready to sell or risk everything because they believe in the transcendent value of the other world to come.

What should such total commitment imply for the typical American Christian? In his The Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce sardonically defines a Christian as “one who follows the teachings of Christ so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.” But what sort of commitment does Jesus expect of his followers today? A life of commitment so far as it is not inconsistent with a comfortable retirement? With a home on a golf course? With an epicurean lifestyle?

The parables of the treasures relate to laying up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). The danger facing the complacent modern church is that it has become "the bland leading the bland." For Jesus, entering the kingdom of God required a passionate commitment demonstrated by radical anti-materialism and selfless generosity. The challenge is how to maintain such a zeal over the decades of life without its becoming destructive of family and, ultimately, of self. The eschatological ethic of Jesus haunts us because of its call for a total commitment we cannot clearly conceive.


1.The American composer William Schuman, asked how he had managed to compose so much despite his other professional responsibilities, replied that commitment could be defined as 600-1000 hours a year devoted to a specific activity. If a Christian devoted 10 percent of his or her income and 10 hours a week to Christian service, would that amount to total commitment? Would you include corporate worship and fellowship in that 10 hours?

2.An old joke says that the difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs: The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. Do you think a Christian can be involved in church work without being truly committed to the kingdom? If so, how?

3.In the Bible, the internal is never separated from the external. Those who offer their heart and life to God, like the Rich Young Ruler, are typically asked to prove their sincerity by giving up many material things. Is it possible to be both committed to the kingdom and committed to financial success?

4.Have you personally taken any deliberate risks as a Christian? What did you learn from the experience?

5.If every Christian were a missionary or a Mother Teresa, who then would provide the financial support for such missions? Some have decided instead to become vocational missionaries who, like Paul, support themselves by "tent making." Do you consider yourself a vocational missionary?

6.Describe a Christian you know who is truly committed. What characterizes that person? Is this person an exception to the rule?


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on June 17, 2007 9:48 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Steadfast Love: The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

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