Summary: This sermon describes our need to assess our earthly possessions from a heavenly perspective.
“From Redneck to Riches”
Sermon on Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52
Pentecost +10-Year A
July 24, 2005
Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.”
I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but read this passage from Matthew’s gospel and not think of the Beverly Hillbillies and Jed Clampett. If you have never seen the classic show, let me remind you of its premise. Jed Clampett is, as the intro song tells us, “a poor mountaineer who barely kept his family fed. Then one day, he was shooting at some food, and up from the ground came a bubblin crude—oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.”
Here was this poor country hillbilly from the Ozarks who is out hunting one day, trying just to survive, and his missed shot strikes oil. He sold his land for $25 million dollars and moved to a mansion in Beverly Hills—from Redneck to Riches. The show chronicles the comedic mishaps of a country family who has now come into the bright lights and the big city of Beverly Hills, the land of swimming pools and movie stars.
I think our parable from St. Matthew is telling us about something very similar to the situation the Clampetts found themselves in after Jed’s miraculous discovery. The man in our parable was out trying to procure food for his family as well. Well, Matthew doesn’t get that specific, but the inference is clear that this man had to have been plowing in a field, going about his daily routine, most likely as a country peasant, not unlike Jed Clampett. And in the course of his ordinary task, he encountered the extraordinary buried treasure. We aren’t told what the treasure is that the man finds, but it is evidently something worth much more than all his other possessions combined.
Well, we may find this a strange story that seems unlikely at best or impossible at worst, but before we judge this parable, it is important to keep in mind the cultural and historical context of the parable. In Jesus’ time, there was no Bank of America or Wachovia in which one could place their valuables for safe keeping. Warfare and political strife was a common occurrence, and sometimes the safest place to store your valuables was underground. But, this was also risky, because what if you died before you could tell someone where you stashed your treasure?
The rabbis had done some thinking on this and there was an understanding that if a man found treasure that had been buried, that no one could clearly lay claim to, it became the property of the finder—an archaic version of “finders keepers, losers weepers.” Well, the man in our parable found something very valuable in the ground, and then hides it again. In his great joy, he goes and sells everything that he has and buys the field. He sounds a bit underhanded. I wonder if Jed Clampett would have sold all he had and bought the land he found oil on if it wasn’t his.
But, we shouldn’t get too caught up in thinking about the moral fabric of this fortunate hillbilly from Jesus’ parable. The main point here is that this man was so filled with joy at what just came out of the ground that he wasn’t going to let anything get in his way of possessing it.
Most people get very depressed when they have to sell some possession or even all they have. The pawn shops and auction houses are full of things that used to be someone else’s. I remember one day when I was in the fourth grade, my mother came into my room at our house in the country club to tell me that we were going to have to move to another house that wasn’t nearly as nice to pay for the operations my brother needed to survive. I started crying. I didn’t want to give up our dream house in the country club and my golf cart and my swimming pool and my rich friends to live in a rented house in the country that smelled funny. Selling all that you have is not a joyful experience, or at least it wasn’t for my family.
But this fortunate hillbilly from the parable is actually happy about selling everything that he has. Nothing else matters, he gives up all else, joyfully even, to possess the treasure awaiting him under the ground. I am happy for the guy in our parable. I hope we all have the discernment and the cunning and the wisdom that this guy has. Too many of us spend our days searching after things that we couldn’t joyfully part with. We spend our lives in pursuit of treasure that is on top of the ground. Our treasure is a bank account with a lot of money in it, a fancy car, a nice house, a really good set of golf clubs, a plasma television. Look all you want, you simply won’t find buried treasure on top of the ground. The real treasure is buried.