Hidden Treasure

Posted 6/3/2018

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

Sylvia Bloom worked as a secretary in a law firm. She was an unassuming woman living an frugal lifestyle in Brooklyn. Leonard Gigowski was a shopkeeper in New Berlin, Wisconsin. A bachelor, he loved ballroom dancing and pigeon racing. He too lived a frugal life. Grace Groner lived in a one-bedroom house in Lake Forest, Illinois. She shopped thrift stores and chose to walk not drive. The one thing they had in common — they each amassed millions of dollars in their lifetimes, and no one knew. 

And then there’s Donald and Mildred Othmer lived in Brooklyn Heights. He was a professor at Polytechic University in Brooklyn and she was a former teacher and buyer for her mother’s dress stores. They were like any other faculty couple. They died in the 90’s, having amassed 3/4 of a billion dollars.

Hidden treasures. Looking at each of these individuals — at their occupations and their lifestyles — you’d never guess they could be worth so much. Their true worth was discovered by their family and others who knew them only after their death, when they left huge bequests to various organizations or causes. Throughout their lives they had hidden treasures.

Paul knew something about hidden treasures, but his treasures weren’t financial treasures. In a world that valued appearances, Paul was a physically unassuming man with it would seem some kind of debilitating health problem. Furthermore, he had the reputation of having been driven out of this and that town, causing riots and having been stoned for what he said and did. In other words he had a grade A-1 reputation as a trouble-maker. Not exactly someone you would consider as a prime candidate to have a treasure. And that’s exactly what the Corinthian Christians thought. They considered Paul to be inferior and his message to be less important than that of more the impressive individuals who had come into their midst with what Paul calls “another gospel.”

The Corinthian Christians might not know and believe it, but Paul knew he DID have a treasure,  the treasure. He had the treasure of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Certainly, it was a “hidden treasure” — there was nothing about him or his life that screamed out “treasure-owner!” In fact, if anything, his life screamed out “failure.” He knew how unimpressive his life would seem to those who saw only with the eyes of the world. Yet he also knew that Christians see with other eyes — eyes that should see the treasure his life held. Yes Paul knows he has a treasure, even if it was, as he would say, a treasure in a clay jar.

Now clay jars are nothing exciting. Archeologists find them all over the place at most dig sites. Clay jars were cheap, everyday kinds of things. If broken, a clay jar would not have been repaired, but simply thrown out. Clay jars would have been familiar to anyone in Paul’s world and their relative lack of value would have been well known.

Furthermore, Paul is writing the Corinthians. Corinth made clay jars — lots of them. The Corinthian clay jars were very thin-walled, making them extremely fragile. Yet their thin walls served a purpose. When used as a lamp the light would shine through those thin clay walls giving more light than any ordinary clay lamp would give. 

Like the Corinthian-made clay jars, Paul’s life is fragile, unremarkable, not at all impressive, seeming of little value in a world that prized public esteem. Yet through his life — and particularly through his sufferings for Christ — Paul knew the treasure of the gospel shone as the treasure it was. Paul knew that in his unremarkable, persecuted life the treasure of God’s power had been set loose and was at work in the world.

Living years later and in a totally different culture, none of us have undergone the kinds of suffering that Paul endured. We have not endured the threat of death, much less found ourselves at the point of death, for the gospel. I’m fairly sure none of us have been driven out of town because we are a Christian, much less has our Christian faith cause a city-wide riot. Our reputations are probably not that of an A-1 troublemakers, but rather that of fairly solid, respectable citizens. In many ways we are quite unlike Paul.

Still we are, all of us, rather unassuming, ordinary people, just like Paul. Our lives don’t scream out that we have a treasure, at least not a treasure our world would recognize. In other words, like Paul, the treasure we have is in a clay jar. It isn’t seen in our living celebrity lives but in our ordinary, even fragile, lives.

But what a treasure it is! This treasure enabled Paul to endure suffering that he might proclaim the good news of Christ because it was the treasure of Christ, crucified and resurrected. And, like Paul, our lives hold the treasure of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Our treasure is the good news that what the world sees and assumes is not the true reality. It is the good news that life can be lived in a new way. It is the good news that God has opened the door to forgiveness, reconciled us to himself and offered us the gift of a new life. The treasure in our clay jar is the good news of God’s kingdom come into our midst. It is the good news of the gift of true life.

This treasure we have is a gift that shines through the thin walls that are our fragile, ordinary lives and reveals the glory of God. God’s glory is seen in the gift of grace poured out upon us that makes us a grace-filled people. God’s glory is seen in our service to others; service freely given for the sake of Christ. God’s glory is seen in the love we show to others, especially those who are the least and the lost and our enemy. God’s glory is seen in our lives, re-made by God’s power into lives that reflect the life of Christ.

Paul knew beyond a doubt that his through his life —ordinary, yet also so disreputable in the eyes of many of his day — the power of God in Christ was revealed. What about us? Do we realize that it is in our ordinary, daily lives — lives that sometimes seem disreputable to some simply because we are Christians — that God reveals the power of the gospel and the presence of his Kingdom to all those about us?