Matthew 13: 44-46 “Riding Unridden Horses”

At a dude ranch out West where city-slickers would come to play at being cowboys for a week at a time, the welcoming speech was always the same: “For you dudes who have never ridden a horse, we have some good news. We have some horses here that have never been ridden.” 

What was said of those horses could be said of many of Jesus’ parables and teachings. They’ve never been ridden by most of us–they’ve never been taken seriously–they’ve never been lived. Why? I would suggest two reasons.

1) Jesus’ teachings and parables are hard to understand and interpret. There is some truth here, but if we stay with them long enough, I believe God will speak to us. Perhaps we will not hear all that can be said about a particular teaching or parable, but we will hear enough if we’re willing to listen. As Mark Twain once said, “What bothers me about the Bible is not what I don’t understand but what I do understand.”

2) The second reason we have never taken seriously some of Jesus’ teachings is the same reason why a city-slicker may be reluctant to ride a horse upon which no one ever sat. That horse may buck us, take us where we don’t want to go, and after being thrown, we may land in some unpredictable places. In other words, after really hearing the parables of Jesus, we will not be the same again. So, we must choose between putting the words of Jesus back on the shelf and returning to a comfortable, predictable existence or preparing for what may be rough ride into the glory of God’s Kingdom. And Jesus says that these are the only two choices before us. There is no middle ground. So, as we hear these two parables, let’s hang tight–hang on–and at times hang loose as we try to ride some horses that we’ve perhaps never ridden before. 

In Matthew’s mind, these twin parables present the essence of what our response to the Kingdom of God should be. The first parable tells of a man who finds a treasure buried in a field. This would not have been that uncommon in the ancient Near East when families may have buried their treasure before fleeing invading armies. Some of these families never returned to claim their treasure while other families failed to escape the ravages of war and the death that such war brings. 

So, we see a man who finds such a treasure that had been buried perhaps centuries in the past. The man may have been a tenant farmer or simply a daily wage earner hired to plough for the day on someone else’s land. Or maybe he was just walking by and saw the treasure which the eroding rains and wind had uncovered. Whatever the case, the man finds the treasure, and his heart pounds as he realizes his discovery. He quickly covers it over and goes and sells everything he has so he can buy the field. If we should walk by his house, we would see a large sign: “For Sale–house, car, furniture, clothes, TV, stove, refrigerator, washer, dryer–everything must go!” We may think he’s crazy–off his rocker–over the edge–nuts. But the man’s not crazy. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He understands the value of the treasure and knows that it cannot be his unless he has given his all. And please note that he sells all not with resignation, sorrow, or an ounce of reluctance. He sells all with joy because he has discovered the real treasure which makes all other valuables tawdry trinkets. 

The other twin parable of Matthew tells of a jeweler looking for the best of pearls. He looks long and hard for the one of his dreams, and when he finds it, he goes and unloads his whole stock, sells all he has, and buys that pearl. He puts up a “going out of business” sign on his shop and liquidates all the lesser valuables so he might acquire this special pearl. A drastic move, isn’t it? 

In fact, both these parables emphasize the drastic nature of the response to God’s Kingdom. They tell us that the discovery of the treasure is so overwhelming that it shatters the patterns and routines that characterize our lives.  Business can’t go on as usual. We simply can’t make the treasure a part of our lives along with everything else and hope that the inclusion of God’s Kingdom will reform us and our world. Jesus never talked about reform; he preached something far more radical–transformation. 

And just as the farmer could not buy the field and its treasure while keeping his life as it was, and just as the jeweler could not buy the pearl of his dreams while maintaining his status quo business, neither can we enter the Kingdom without the drastic response of putting God’s Kingdom first in our lives. Such a response requires a transformation as radical and apparent as the caterpillar turning into a butterfly.  

The great southern preacher Clarence Jordan said that these twin parables confront anyone who is serious about discipleship with two questions: 

A) “Have I discovered the treasure?” Now our predictable response is, “Sure we have. I mean, my mamma and papa were Christians–leaders in the church. And I go to church regularly. I occasionally read my Bible and say my prayers. I even do some good deeds now and then. Oh, and I’ve been baptized.” Yes, and perhaps we will even be buried with a nice Christian ceremony. But the question was, have we discovered the treasure? Do we know what God is offering in the Kingdom? Do we have an inkling (much less any real understanding) of the deep joy, peace, love, hope, harmony, truth, and community that are possible once we really possess that treasure? 

I’m not so sure we have discovered that treasure.  If we have discovered it, why are our lives so much like the lives of everyone else in our culture? If we have discovered it, why do we more often than not feel we are on a treadmill of the same routines, the same old attitudes, and the same old goals? If we have discovered the treasure, why isn’t there more joy –genuine, 24 K joy– in our lives? Clarence Jordan may be right. The most important question each of us may ask ourselves is a simple one: “Have I discovered the treasure?” 

B) Jordan’s second question was, “Has the treasure reshaped my life?” Suppose we have found the treasure. Suppose God has broken through to us, and we understand what is possible in our lives. Suppose we have been touched by the Master and have caught a glimpse of what it can mean to live in God’s Kingdom. What will we do once we’ve discovered the treasure?

You see, now the stakes are higher, aren’t they? Shall we cover the treasure up, return to our ploughing and slowly let that experience fade from our minds and lives? Shall we walk away from the pearl of great price and return to our old shop and routines while perhaps dreaming of what could have been? Or will we give our all to possess the treasure? Will we put the treasure of God’s Kingdom first and foremost in our lives so that everything else is transformed–not just reformed, but transformed by our possession of that treasure? Will we allow all we are and all we have to become channels through which the Kingdom values of God may flow and become real in us and in our world? 

It’s scary, isn’t it? It’s scary to see what is required of us to enter that Kingdom. And that it is so scary is what bothers me. That’s why I wonder if we’ve really discovered the treasure. You see, if we had any idea or even an inkling of the value of that treasure, then we would not be scared, reluctant, or calculating. We would come before God with JOY and say, “Here, Lord, is all I am and all I have. I want to possess that treasure. I want to enter that Kingdom of joy, peace, love, harmony, truth, and community. I want to be yours.” 

So, let me conclude by asking, “Have we ever ridden these twin parables? Have we ridden them today? And if we have, where are we going to land?”


The reference point of Jesus’ parables is the Kingdom of God–God’s righteous rule in heaven and on earth. What is amazing about the stories in Jesus’ parables is their subject matter: without exception, that subject matter involved the everyday, commonplace world of the Palestinian peasant–a Father with a rebellious teenage son who leaves home, squanders his money, returns home, is welcomed by his father but rejected by a jealous older brother–a woman who loses a coin and sweeps the dirt floor of her dimly lit house until she finds it–a widow who hounds a wicked judge until he gives in and hears her case–a farmer who sows seed and reaps a respectable harvest–a certain man who fell among thieves–a rich man whose greedy heart and plans for bigger barns provide poor preparations for a future which included his death—all commonplace and everyday in the world of the peasant. 

The parables told by rabbis contemporary with Jesus were far different. They dealt with kings and powerful figures–with costly adventures and spectacular achievements. But not so with the parables of Jesus. It’s as though Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God comes not with pomp and circumstance–not with apocalyptic destruction or profound wisdom. God’s Kingdom comes in the everyday lives of the people God loves. 

That everydayness is reenacted at this table. Bread and wine were the everyday fare of the Palestinian peasant–nothing special–not even food for company–just a common, everyday meal. But it is in the everyday that God comes, and it is in the commonplace that God is revealed. When you think about it, for a God who came as a village carpenter and who concerned himself with the multitudes, how could it be any different? 

If we cannot find God in our commonplace, everyday world, we are not likely to find God at all. But here God is–in bread and wine–in flesh and blood–in time and space–our time and our space–God for us. 


We come to this Table to find God and to be found by God. And that is good. But the Good News of God’s Kingdom is that we can find and be found by God not at just sacred, holy altars, but also in the commonplace, everyday activities of our lives. May God send us forth conscious that Christ has made holy and sacred all times and all places through his ever-present, all-inclusive grace.

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