If Some Things Have Ultimate Value
April 25, 2009
Bear with me as I meditate on the meaning of the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. I am preaching on this very simple and profound passage tomorrow. My thoughts have led me down several paths to a place of focus.
If there is ultimate value in the world than that value has implications.
Those implications are found in the changes that come to our lives as a result.
If I believe that something is "ultimate concern" (Paul Tillich's definition of faith and religion), then I must rethink all of my other concerns.
" ... ultimate concern was always my main concern," Tillich said in the interview I am posting. He was misunderstood because he used the language, "God is dead," while referring to traditional views of God. What he believed about God himself was somewhat unclear. Tillich found it necessary to articulate his commitments in unorthodox ways.
The problem of "what's the meaning of my life," was the driving force behind his own seeking and thought. While he came to different conclusions than I would, he raised questions that continue to challenge us to do something about the treasures we find in the field and those pearls of great price for which we sell all in order to gain what we see as most valuable.
What I declare as ultimate concern in my life is the Kingdom of God as embodied in and taught by Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
You may be on a different path. Perhaps you can still apply this principle of ultimate commitment arising out of ultimate concern. For me, the call is a clear and certain and the One making the call is real and personal.
So, what do I do? What must I do?
If I truly believe, as I do, that I have found the greatest treasure, I cannot honestly walk away from it unscathed and unaltered.
If I rethink everything, then I must rethink with an eye toward reorientation. If my orientation changes, it affects the view of everything else in my view. What was primary becomes peripheral. Some things simplly fade into a dark background.
The reorientation, as implied, grows out of a refocus. The eye on the prize for a person of faith is an eye on the person who is "the Other." This "Other" is Holy/Wholly Other." (See Rudolph Otto - "The Idea of the Holy")The "Other" is different from us and that uniqueness impresses us into reverence. But this "Other" in the gospels is also one of us and, in leaving us, sends yet another to walk alongside us as Spirit and guide.
Tillich says that the most convincing evidence of any faith is the transformation of those who commit to it.
So, I refocus and that means I must reorient. What follows is redirection of the movement of my life, reevaluation of what is important, revisiting all my commitments of time, energy, and money, and restructuring all my beliefs and priorities.
Jesus said, and it is quoted in Matthew 13:44-45, that those who found treasures in the field and pearls of great price were willing to sell all to gain that one thing.
The great question in genie lore is what will you do with the three wishes if you have only three. I was told I was in violation of the genie code (though it was not stated at the outset) when I expressed my intention to first request unlimited wishes.
It seemed valid.
Whenever you have only a few choices you choose the choice that brings more choices. You buy the option machine. It is good business and it is good religion.
He said that the kingdom was like that.
Perhaps he calls the "narrow way"also the way of freedom and unlimited possibilities.
Jesus never proclaimed the Kingdom of God as being bad news. It was always good news. The bad news was all outside of that kingdom. His message was essentially and consistently positive to all but a few.
And those few were those who sought to impose religion from the outside and conform people into the image of God through coercion. Jesus taught transformation through the serendipitous discovery of pearls and treasures of ultimate value, concern, and joy.
He had bad news for the stubborn, for manipulators, and oppressors of people. It was bad news for those who refused to become like children, who saw reality and called it something else. It was bad news for those who, once convinced that He was the One, manufactured reasons not to believe. Doubters were welcome, even the one who said, "I believe; help me with my unbelief."
But change, Jesus knew and proclaimed, would not come through the oppressive structures of institutions.
Even when Paul wrote about conformity, it was a call and desire to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus. Conformity to the world, which is most of what we know in religion and secular society, is to be shunned and contrasted with transformation through the renewing of the mind.
It begins with finding the treasure, the pearl of great price that turns the lights on inside of us and compels us to divest ourselves of everything else.
I had posed the question: What are we willing to lose in order to gain everything?
More examples of this principle seem to surface in the world of success literature that in the annals of the church, though some in the world of success are first and foremost, people of faith.
The tragedy is, if I am not willing to lose donuts to gain health, an impulsive purchase to gain financial stability, or a few hours a week to gain financial freedom, am I willing to lose everything for an invisible kingdom?
If the message of the good news of the Kingdom of God is true, if life change (repentance) is possible, if eternity is what is being offered, and if divine help in making changes to our desires, attitudes, and behaviors is available AND if I am at least somewhat convinced that it is true, how can I ignore that? How can I place it on the back burner? How can I consign it to some insignificant corner of my life?
If it is ultimate concern, it calls for radical attention.
Somewhere along the line, I became convinced of the reality and viability of the Good News (gospel) and if that reality began to transform and refocus my thinking. It has been the dominant theme of my life for decades.
However, I sadly suspect that I have yet to sell all. How about you?