Sharing Your Treasure
SHARING YOUR TREASURE
Recently the actor Richard Dreyfuss was interviewed on NPR about his portrayal of Bernie Madoff in an ABC miniseries. Many of you may remember the Bernie Madoff scandal of 2008. He was a Wall Street Stockbroker who was convicted of a massive Ponzi scheme that destroyed the savings and lives of many people. According to biography.com Madoff was turned in by his own sons who discovered the Ponzi scheme. In total, Madoff admitted to losing $50 billion in his investor’s money and plead guilty to 11 counts of securities fraud. (biography.com)
After the story broke, many people were shocked that such a successful firm could be built on fraud. Certainly, Madoff has been demonized as an example of all that is wrong with our capitalist system. But Dreyfuss, in this upcoming miniseries, plays Madoff as a very likable guy. When asked why he did this Dreyfuss replied, “He has to be a guy who you really like or else he wouldn’t have been successful, you know, taking your money. Everyone liked him … until they hated him.” (NPR)
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
Don’t throw your pearls before swine. Perhaps you have heard this saying before. It is one of the more popular sayings of Jesus that has entered into the wider culture. I think Jesus intends this saying to balance his last teaching on not judging that we learned about two weeks ago. For if we had only that teaching, we might think that Jesus simply wants us to be trusting of everyone. That we are not called as believers to have discernment about what is true, what is half true, and what is false. That love trumps what is right and wrong. Acceptance trumps holiness.
But cases like Bernie Madoff show us that is not the case.
There are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
There are false prophets.
There are sociopaths who are very likable but are wicked.
Trust can be dangerous. But it is also the foundation of relationships. It is the foundation of ministry. Trusting people is not just an option, it is a necessity. And today, I think Jesus is teaching us how to share our treasure in a way that is neither judgmental nor gullible. So today I want you to understand three things.
- What is the treasure that we as believers possess?
- How we are called to share this treasure?
- And who we are called to share this treasure with?
First, what is the treasure, the pearl that believers possess? We as human beings certainly have many things we value. Many of us, especially in such a tight knit community and church, value family above all else. We may also value friends, charities, and community organizations, leisure activities that renew our souls, and yes our financial investments and the feeling of security that brings to us. But Jesus tells us what is most valuable is that which is Holy. The word Holy means that which is set apart, that which is other. And what is Holy here is the Pearl, which we learn in Matthew 13 represents the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of heaven. We are told that a merchant searched for such a pearl and, when he found it, he sold everything he had to buy that pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45).
And what is God’s Kingdom? It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News that Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, and Christ will come again for us. The Good News that we pray whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will might be done on Earth as it is in heaven. The Good News that man cannot live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. The Good News that if we hunger for something more than this life has to offer that is because there is something more, and that something is someone, that someone is Jesus. Can we say today as the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:8 that “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” Jesus, in the end, is the only treasure that matters, because in the end, no matter how tightly we grasp to our earthly treasure, we can’t take it with us when we leave this life.
Second, how are we called to share this treasure? In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus gives us his basic game plan for evangelizing. First, Jesus tells his disciples to stick with the house of Israel. Later, in Matthew 28, he will expand the Gospel mission to the entire world, but at least at first, it seems Jesus in advising his disciples to stick with what they are familiar with. Today, we might say don’t try to share your faith with a complete stranger but start with people you have some familiarity with. This could be through family, or occupation, or common interest.
Second, Jesus tells us that we are to proclaim the message of the Kingdom. We are to try to talk about spiritual things, about what we know about Jesus, even if we are not the best theologians.
Third, we are to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and raise the dead. Jesus’ fundamental method of ministry was show and tell, or tell and show. He would tell people about the Kingdom of God and then he would demonstrate it. I still believe that such miracles are for today, and that we as believers are given circumstances where God can use us for such miracles, but we don’t have to limit this text to just doing extraordinary miracles. The three areas of “showing” that support our “telling” that this text displays are
- healing, helping people when they are sick, may that be physical, mental, or spiritual
- inclusion, that being welcoming those who have been cast out (like lepers), and
- new hope, that being giving hope to people who have suffered loss, being willing to take on what appears to be a hopeless situation, like raising a dead person, not because we think we have the ability to do so, but because God has called us to that situation.
Fourth, we are to depend on God. We do this by not bringing everything we need, but by depending upon God to provide our needs through the hospitality of others. Often, one way to form a connection, especially in traditional cultures, is not to serve others but to allow others to serve us. If you go somewhere you haven’t been before or talk to someone you haven’t talked to before and you start the conversation by saying, “You need my help, you have nothing to offer, I am going to fix your problems,” people are going to feel like they are being treated like children. People often think poverty is about a lack of stuff. It is that. But it is also about a lack of dignity. And if you treat people like children, they will probably live up to your expectations. But when you allow them the opportunity to serve you, when you make it an exchange of your treasure, that being the Gospel, and their treasure, say allowing someone to cook you a meal, then people feel like they have dignity. They feel like they are equals in your eyes. And we share our treasure best among equals whom we respect.
Finally, Jesus tells us that even when we adopt these strategies, there are some who will not react well to the Gospel, who will reject our treasure. Jesus tells us not to give what is holy to dogs and not to throw our pearls before swine. Dogs in the ancient world were not pets as they are today. They were wild scavengers that were willing to attack anything. Likewise, pigs were unclean animals to Jews, animals who would eat anything. Dogs would tear you apart, while pigs, being stupid creatures driven by their need for food, would trample over a treasure without knowing it. Of course, no one likes being called a dog or a pig. But perhaps Jesus is warning us not to take on more than we can handle. This is not to say that we shouldn’t help dysfunctional or dangerous people. Jesus himself freed the demoniac, who was known for living among the dead, crying out in the night, and cutting himself day and night. But the demoniac in some capacity wanted help. There was a desire to get to Jesus. People who take enjoyment out of hurting others or people who are only concerned with their own comfort are probably not people who would well receive the message of the Gospel.
Instead of seeking out people who actively resist the Gospel, Jesus tells us to take a different strategy to evangelize. He tells us when we enter a town, to find out who in the town is worthy and stay with them. The Greek word here is Axios. It is where we get our modern word axiom or axis. The dictionary defines axiom as, “a self evident truth that requires no proof”, or a “universally accepted principle or rule.” The Greek word itself means the balance beam by which two weights are held on a scale. So Jesus is not asking the disciples to find someone who is worthy, in the sense that they are more worthy than others to hear the Gospel, or in the sense that they can save themselves through their own works. He is telling them to find someone who is known in the community for being fair and honest, a person of integrity. A person who has a good sense of what the truth is. The logic seems to be that such a person will be more likely to receive the Gospel, though this is not a hundred percent certainty, because it is hard to judge a person’s character by reputation alone. Madoff is a good example of this. These people probably will not be the most wealthy people in the community. Often, anyone who builds an empire like Bernie Madoff, even if they are not breaking the law, probably have been willing to sacrifice people for profits, they are probably more concerned about getting ahead than they are with knowing what is in people’s hearts. Instead, I think Jesus is recommending what many missionaries try to do in tribal societies like those found in Africa. Find the person most respected in the community. Convert them to Christ. And then others will follow because of the moral authority of that person. We see this demonstrated in Acts 16 when Paul and Timothy go preach in Macedonia in a town named Philippi. There they find a woman named Lydia, a seller of fine purple cloth. The Lord opens her heart to the Gospel and her and her household were baptized. Later on in Acts 16:40, we discover that Lydia’s house was home base for the new church in Phillipi.
As I think about our church, I am convicted by how many people of Axios, people of fairness who are respected in this community, we have in our congregation. I have often been inspired by how the Ransbottom clan runs their business and their families. I have been impressed by how Lew and Jerry serve our local American Legion. I have been impressed by how Amy Philips gives to her family and to her job as a nurse. I have been impressed by how the Boggs have invested in the education of youth and children in this area by being teachers, serving on the school board, and investing in our preschool. I have been impressed by how many of you have served with our local fire station and the local lodge. I believe we have the power to tip the scales in our favor, to be a witness to the Kingdom, if we have the discernment and the willingness to share our treasure.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.