Friday’s Column: Brent’s Bent
In Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987), loosely based on historical events, Elliot Ness must stop gangster Al Capone. Ness, portrayed by Kevin Costner, is recruiting capable men to help him accomplish his task. One of the men he selects is an Irish beat cop, Jimmy Malone. Malone, played by Sean Connery, asks Ness what he is prepared to do to stop Al Capone. Ness replies he is willing to do anything within the law. However, Malone reminds him that Capone doesn’t play by those rules, implying that Ness will have to dirty his hands to bring Capone to justice. Sadly, one of Capone’s cronies mortally wounds Malone later in the movie. As he lay dying, he again asks Ness what he is prepared to do. Malone’s death finally causes Ness to take his gloves off and give Capone a hard fight.
Obviously, our devotional thoughts are just as loosely based on The Untouchables as the said movie was on the actual events occurring during Prohibition. Thus, I am primarily focusing on Malone’s question of what one is prepared to do. This question strikes me as pertinent to two parables spoken by Jesus to His disciples in Matthew 13.44-45. There are seven parables in Matthew 13, but Jesus gave only four of those to the assembled masses. The remaining three he spoke to the disciples alone. Of those three parables, two deal with people making an incredible discovery and the lengths they go to secure it. The Pearl of Great Price and the Hidden Treasure is parables requiring sacrifice from those wishing to obtain what Jesus equates to the kingdom of heaven.
Wait a minute. Are these not disciples to whom He addresses these parables? Yes. So, have they not already found the treasure, having decided to follow Jesus? Indeed, they have. However, there remains something even they must do. Even though they have acknowledged that there is something special about Jesus, that He is the Messiah, there is still a price to be paid. If they wish to complete their faithfulness, they must be willing to forfeit all to secure God’s precious promises. In the case of some, this knowledge came because of a diligent search. For the others, they had chanced upon the Messiah. Regardless of the circumstances, though, both groups had to surrender everything to receive the kingdom.
Recalling Matthew’s original audience, we note Matthew’s message is Jesus is the Messiah. Thus, he wrote primarily for the benefit of the Jews looking for the Messiah. They had to recognize that Jesus of Nazareth was He about whom the prophets had spoken, even Moses. Yet, they had to do more than mentally assent to Jesus’ identity. The believer’s conviction would cause them even to forfeit their former spiritual wealth obtained under the Law of Moses since God’s kingdom is invaluable in comparison. Elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells those who would follow Him that they had to remove all stumbling blocks from obedience, even if that were a foot or an eye (Matthew 18.7-9). Jesus was using this language figuratively, of course, as He was not advocating self-mutilation. But the message is the same as that of the Pearl of Great Price and the Hidden Treasure. You must remove absolutely everything coming between you and the acquisition of the kingdom of heaven without prejudice.
That is a sober message for those of us reading Matthew’s Gospel today. We may have satisfied ourselves with the knowledge that we have grasped the identity of Christ. Perhaps, we have even taken steps to become Christians. We are His disciples. But even to us, Jesus asks, “What are you prepared to do?” If the answer is not the equivalent of forfeiting all for the sake of the kingdom, then we have not yet done enough. As those to whom the Hebrews’ writer wrote, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin” (Hebrews 12.4 NASB1995). The implication, of course, is Christians elsewhere in the first century were shedding their blood for their faith. Hence, the road taken by the recipients of the Hebrews letter was calmer in comparison. Thus, as I read those parables of the Pearl of Great Price and the Hidden Treasure, I must ask myself if I likewise will give my all to receive the kingdom of heaven. So then, when the situation calls for it, I must do whatever it takes to receive the kingdom of heaven. Only then will I have obtained the Pearl of Great Price and the Hidden Treasure.