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Fools Gold or Costly Treasure

By December 16, 2003 No Comments

There is a river in the Sierra Mountains. Perhaps it is the most beautiful river in the world. It is born out of the snow pack of the high backcountry where melting glaciers form icy rivulets of water that trickle their way into crystal clear creeks, which converge into streams, and finally come together in a powerful river.

The River is the Merced, and by the time it reaches the little Yosemite Valley, it is a spectacular and powerful swirl of blue-green froth bursting over the cliffs and boulders, forming extravagant waterfalls and churning rapids. Further downstream, the Merced River slows to wind its way much more quietly through the meadows and forests of the Yosemite Valley proper, and within the shadows of massive granite cliffs, lies a wide bend in the river. In that bend is a beach, not the kind you would expect here in Michigan with its pristine sands. The sand is coarse ground granite littered with smooth round river rocks, but it is warm. Baked by the sun, its heat contrasts with the icy cold teal-green waters that flow around it. At the meeting of the warm sand and the freezing water sits a little girl.

She is fascinated by something she has spotted in the water. As she runs her fingers through the sand, little gold shimmers of rock, flecks of golden sunlight, flash up at her. She sifts the sand some more and discovers that these little disks of metallic light are everywhere. In fact, as she stands up they cling to her wet legs and arms making her body glisten in the sunshine.

Every school child in California knows the stories. There is gold in the streams of the Sierras! Could it be? Alas, no, for every child also knows that the streams of California are filled with mica. Mica–it is beautiful, it is fascinating, it captures the imagination, and it is abundantly easy to find, but it is worthless, nothing more than fool’s gold!

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. Like a treasure hidden. . .

The kingdom of heaven is hidden. It is not obvious. It is not abundant. It is not fool’s gold that can be found anywhere. It is not the treasures of this world, which are plentiful, fascinating, and glitter with alluring sheen. I am sure you could make your own list of worldly treasures. These are the ones that entice me: comfort, education, wealth, power, entertainment, recognition, competence, beautiful things, cars, houses, travel, and even information. All of these things are at my fingertips. But they are fool’s gold.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field . . . Hidden in a field? The kingdom of heaven is hidden in the most ordinary places of life. Our world is full of things like the Merced River–extravagant, beautiful, and impressive. If you want to find true treasure you must search, and you must do it in the most ordinary places.

Near the dry dusty town of Columbia, California there is a worn rough track of road. It is not well traveled, and it is not pretty. At the end of this overgrown dirt trail is a hillside covered in scrub brush. Barely visible beneath the manzanita bushes is a dark hole in the ground. If you had bought this unlikely and unappealing piece of land 150 years ago, and dug this hole, you would have possessed one of the most prosperous gold mines in California history.

The kingdom of heaven appears like this mine. It is small, hidden, and utterly ordinary, and to those without eyes to see it is completely worthless. However, appearances can be deceiving and so can the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God belongs to those who are willing to search for it, and are expecting to find treasure in the most ordinary places. Maybe for you it will be in the most ordinary people, the most ordinary ministry, the most ordinary church or the most ordinary call.

Madeleine L’Engle calls the church a safe place to escape the demands of God. She may be right, for it would be easy for us to stop here. But there is more to our text.

Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

The kingdom of heaven comes at a very high price. It demands all that we have and all that we are. We do not purchase the Kingdom with money, or possessions, or good works, but according to this passage we have to put something on the table, and that something is everything that is important to us and everything that we are. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

The Christian way is different: harder and easier. Christ says, ‘Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you–No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent, as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.’ (The Joyful Christian, p. 179)

The kingdom of heaven costs so much because God wants to give us so much. In order to have treasure beyond compare, that is the very will of God, we must turn over our own. There is no space for two wills.

And yet, when we find the kingdom we go in joy and sell all we have. In joy, because we know that the treasures of heaven far outweigh the treasures of this world, and those things that we give into the hands of God will be better off in his care.

So I invite you on a treasure hunt. It will be the adventure of your life. If you are inclined, as I am, to dabble with fool’s gold on the edge of beautiful rivers, I urge you to reconsider.

Go sell all that you have and buy the field. Your treasure awaits.

Carolyn Raar is a senior student at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.