Posts Tagged ‘Theology’

The Treasure Hunt

Posted on: August 11th, 2022 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

Homily delivered at Church of the Transfiguration, St. Catharines, Ontario, on Aug. 7, 2022,
based on readings appointed by the Revised Standard Lectionary: Isaiah 1:1, 10‐20; Psalm 50:1‐8, 22‐23; Hebrews 11:1‐3, 8‐16; Luke 12:32‐40

All the readings today are connected beautifully; that’s not always the case during Ordinary Time, but today’s lessons are richly joined by imagery and imagination. The OT reading stresses that it is not ritual or animal sacrifice that God desires, but thanksgiving and following God’s way of justice & righteousness: “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow,” followed by the promise: “if you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” (Isaiah) Psalm 50 appointed for today echoes the same theme: “those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me; to those who go the right way, I will show the salvation of God.” The passage in the gospel of Luke picks up on the image of “going the right way” to gain God’s reward: “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom . . . make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (one of my favorite verses from the Bible). The letter to the Hebrews pulls all the readings together by recalling the history of Abraham: “Abraham . . . set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance and he set out, not knowing where he was going . . . For he looked forward to the city . . . whose builder is God . . . [he was] seeking a homeland . . .” and then the writer clarifies the metaphor: “they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

The passages today are connected by the metaphor of the journey, the quest motif, or, echoing the metaphor of Luke’s gospel, the treasure hunt. However, the treasure is not earthly wealth but spiritual well-being or direction; the homeland, the promised land, is not a specific place but “a heavenly one.” The Spiritual journey of our lives seen as a treasure hunt: the search for the holy grail (as so many adventure films make clear) is not for the actual cup of the Last Supper, studded with rich jewels, but discovers instead the spiritual significance of the cup, the spiritual growth of the journey–it’s the search itself. Western literature is filled with so many illustrations of characters who miss the meaning of the quest, who confuse the spiritual with the physical–sometimes they die in their confusion like Gatsby or Gollum; others learn from the quest and discover love and identity like Luke Skywalker or Frodo. Duddy Kravitz schemes and connives to buy land while cheating those who love him, both friend and lover; he misunderstands the metaphor of his grandfather’s admonition that “a man without land is nobody.” Compare the struggle in the middle east (indeed, in many countries) over actual land; people miss the symbolic significance of “the promised land” in scripture, a land where peace and justice are the cornerstones of society, where the people actively seek to do God’s will: “do good, seek justice, love mercy.”

The Bible too is filled with the record of mankind missing the mark, only to grow and learn, to refocus on the ideals of their faith; it is comforting and instructive to read of the doubts and uncertainties of our spiritual ancestors, their mistakes and new beginnings; the story of Jacob, for instance, who cheats his brother Esau out of his inheritance and then flees, and there in that far country grows and matures, discovers the errors of his way and eventually gains his brother’s forgiveness. The overall structure of the Bible itself reflects the quest motif, beginning as it does in a garden and ending in Revelation with the vision of the holy city, the new Jerusalem. Mankind, expelled from the garden, wanders in the wilderness, a stranger in a strange land, yet always moving toward the heavenly city, God’s kingdom come on earth where justice and peace shall reign. The bible presents the vision of one long quest with the record of a whole lot of smaller quests within that wider structure. It mirrors our own journey through life, from birth to death, that life filled with all sorts of journeys of discovery, stages of growth, actual and spiritual–marriage, divorce, employment, downsizing, children, aging. Each day is a treasure hunt, a journey, from waking to sleeping; each moment of each day has possibilities to unearth spiritual treasure. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Change and journeys can be frightening–remember Jacob, remember Abraham–for one never knows what is going to happen, but they are the stuff of life and of literature, the central theme of the Biblical narrative.

“One of the more popular ways of identifying oneself as a Christian is to affirm that one has been “born again.” And although a whole religious culture has risen up around that phrase, the concept of being “born again” is essentially based on a mistranslation. The phrase in Jesus’ mouth in John 3:3 (translated correctly in the New Revised Standard Version) actually tells Nicodemus that he must be born “from above.” Whereupon the literalist Nicodemus misunderstands and asks, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” And therein lies the core difference between two approaches to the spiritual life: Being “born again” has come to mean a once-and-for-all experience of God’s grace and love. Insofar as it can be the first step in a life’s journey of faith, being “born again” can be a helpful experience and concept. But Jesus never said you have to be born again, but born “from above.” Being born “from above” implies a journey, a process, an orientation – a way of life.” To be “born from above” implies that something within us “from below” has to die, our old way of being, our selfish striving for survival at all costs, to be replaced by the values of God’s kingdom, the way of Jesus, of love of neighbour. Faith becomes not a statement, but a process faithful to our faithful Lord.

As the story of Abraham and Sarah illustrates, opportunities for personal growth come at every age. We don’t have to venture forth on actual journeys, that’s the purpose of stories, to read and to imagine and to grow and learn from imagined experiences. Quest stories are about transformation, change, from one psychological state to another, for the protagonist and for his community. Margaret Atwood in a recent essay sums up the purpose of pilgrimage as “seeking a passage from imagination to reality.” The Bible presents us with a vision, an imagined world, God’s promised land, and it is our vocation in life to make that vision a reality, to bring God’s kingdom into reality here on earth. The quest motif and its metaphors have rich significance for us personally and politically, for individual Christians on their individual journeys, for the Church on its course through history as it pursues its mission to the wider human society, to imagine a new world order built on God’s principals of justice and fairness for all. The Biblical image of the journey, the quest, the treasure hunt, is the central metaphor of our faith, meant to inspire us with God’s vision for us and all of creation. Mindful of our heritage, stretching all the way back to Father Abraham and before, we must listen to the Spirit who ever has more to teach us about being disciples of Christ, followers of the Way. In the NT the word Christian appears exactly 3 times; the word disciple, 263 times. “God in Jesus calls us deeper and deeper into our humanity–part of which is a constant quest and journey into truth. That journey in time always becomes a journey into God.” (Spong) The Bible passages today remind us of our rich spiritual heritage, offer us a profound imagined reality: we need to hold on to these visions of God’s kingdom as we journey through this life, to achieve the goal, to find the treasure, for ourselves and for our world.