In Luke the “treasure” he speaks of is the Kingdom of God and is reminiscent of a parable in Matthew when he writes “The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field” (Matthew 13:44).
Note: Matthew, being more “Jewish” than the other gospel writers always substitutes the word “heaven” for” God” because traditionally “God” is too holy to us, but the meaning is the samee.
Kingdoms of this that or the other really tell us where final authority rests. So if you are a conscious subject of the Kingdom of God – this is a way of saying that you acknowledge the authority of God in your life so it is incumbent upon you, as a willing part of that kingdom that you will follow and act in accordance with God’s will and character.
What is God’s will and character and how should we act? Well of course in Christianity we say that God’s way of doing things and character has been revealed and modelled by Jesus, in what he did and the way he did it. Following the way of life modelled by Jesus is therefore the same thing as being a part of the Kingdom of God.
That way of life of self sacrifice, forgiveness and compassion has been modelled by other religious figures I’m sure but we are culturally Christian so Jesus is our model of how to live in the light of a close relationship with God. That is my definition of what it is to be a Christian.
We follow as best we can with varying levels of success, and when we see our failures we ask for forgiveness and carry on.
Being ready, alert, watchful etc which comes up a fair deal in the gospels is expressed again in our parable today. Keeping the light of God burning in our lives through prayer and good deeds despite all that assails us is the task at hand, because if we relax – thieves can break in and steal our treasure away. In real terms this means we will backtrack and become again more self serving because we will replace God at the centre of our lives with something else – usually our own ego, or power or possessions.
Passages like this one have also traditionally been associated by the church as exhortations to keep the faith while we waited for the second coming of Jesus – a second coming, the final judgement and the end of the world usually understood in starkly literal terms. Historically when the “second coming” did not happen the idea of the presence* of Jesus with his people was sublimated into the Eucharist – he was with us – truly present - that way.
*Note: The phrase “second coming” is not Biblical and is simply an English extrapolation. The Greek word is “Parousia” and means “Presence”. The theology of presence is very close to my heart
Later on, that view has developed and conflated so whenever the Spirit of God is present and acted on in our lives we can say that Jesus is present. When we emulate the Jesus way it is as if Jesus himself were doing it. Jesus becomes present – he returns – when we act like Jesus. We become Christ for the other person.
So it is circular. When we acknowledge God as our Father and act in his Spirit, as Jesus did, we become Christ, and God’s presence and character are revealed and made known. The Kingdom of God has come near. Christian acts or deeds are the oil in our lamps, keeping the light of God shining in the world. With no good deeds, with no oil, the lamp goes out.
And just to be clear – doing good does not buy anything from God. Doing good doesn’t make anyone more loved or move anyone further up any sort of pecking order. Instead, doing good is a natural outflowing from within, flowing out of a knowledge of God’s love and presence within us.
When we talk of building the kingdom of God, or as in that famous hymn, building Jerusalem in this green and pleasant land we want people to acknowledge the fruits of the Kingdom but also to acknowledge the source of the fruitfulness. The two must go hand in hand I’m sure.
My training vicar in Margate always used to say. We are only called to the faithful not successful. But what does faithful really mean? When I read the New Testament what I see is a call to bear fruit. It’s a call to change and transform. That for me is what being faithful really means.
Following the way of Jesus – doing what he might have done – we make Christ present in the world.