Deut. 7:6-9; Ps. 125; Romans 8:28-39; Matthew 13:44-52.
Separate? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (v. 35a)
The question is rhetorical, expecting faith’s answer; “No one nor anything in all creation will separate us from the love of God.” St. Paul’s intent is to assure God’s elect in the world.
Repeating, assurance is for the Elect; not everyone of the Christian congregation. Jesus explained the visible from the invisible church by the parables of Weeds Among the Wheat and a Dragnet capturing both good and worthless fish.
The apostolic mission was as “fishers of men” by the preached word. The church neither sorts weeds from wheat nor edible fish from inedible, she is not competent to the task; it is certainly risky business when congregations purge delinquent members. On the Last Day, at Christ’s word, his angels will sort.
Satan, an angel, separated man from his dominion in the creation; so, the task of separating sheep from goats will fall to angels to gather the faithful and bundle the faithless for dispatch to their “own place” (Mt. 25:33, Acts 1:25b).
Man, was made in the image and likeness of God, to rule in the creation, icons of God; but by listening to Satan, man was undone; separated from holiness. Distrust insinuated between man and woman; rather than rule, they struggled with the creation, ending in atomized dust.
Before the foundation of the world, God graciously elected those to his word, will, and purposes in Christ; yet, how do we know if we are among the Elect? Are we wheat or weeds; are we good or disposable fish? The church’s doctrine of election speaks to the invisibility of the true church and faith’s assurance; how so?
Each Lord’s Day we communally confess hidden character of the church, “I believe in one God, maker…of all things visible and invisible” (Nicene Creed, 1st Art.). This morning Jesus teaches the parable of a Hidden Treasure in the world for which he would give his all for all on the cross, an atoning ransom for a new possession. In Christ, those who receive election are “a people for his treasured possession” (Deut. 7:6b).
If the true church is invisible, how are we assured of our treasured status? The Elect, are found where God has established his Name for his and our glory, in Christ’s body for delivery of word and sacraments and so the multiplication of faith, hope, and love. Some come by conversion; others enthusiastically join our fellowship, but on account of tribulations or disappointments with this or that congregation may fall away.
The Elect in Christ are not only God’s “treasured possession”; God is the church’s treasure for whom Jesus provides “trained scribes”, pastors and teachers to increase wisdom brought out by things, “both new and old” (Mt. 13:52). Pastors bring out God’s word, the OT comprehended through the NT and person of Jesus that impels a faithfulness of baptismal and Eucharistic participation in the physicality of his crucified and risen flesh and blood.
God’s treasure abounds; an early Christian pastor was commanded by Roman authority to hand-over his treasure. Rome expected the treasure to consist of gold and silver vessels, fine vestments, artistic crucifixes, extensive libraries, and money from offerings. Instead the pastor brought the official the elderly, widows, infirmed, of the congregation and directed him to those imprisoned for their faith.
Our treasure is not only Christ in word and sacraments, it is Christ in fellowship with brothers and sisters joined in the Apostles’ teaching, communal prayer, and breaking of the Bread (Acts 2:42).
The parable of the Pearl of Great Price is Jesus’ assurance of our election. The more a pearl is handled, its luster and beauty are enhanced. God gave the woman to Adam, a bride uniquely “fit” for his treasure. In his office toward and love of the woman, Adam was to give her all; she was his trove for begetting “all the living” (Gen. 3:20).
Adam naming all animals should have discerned the serpent’s unnatural attitude toward the woman. Rather than exerting dominion by God’s word, “Get behind me Satan; depart from this holy place”, Adam permitted the woman to bandy words with the flattering beast.
Jesus’ Pearl parable has a merchant in search of pearls, cypher for bride. He discerns one that is singular, an unrecognized standout whom he desires over all others, the one he would make his own church, to give her, his life and glory.
The parable pictures a marriage in the offing. Jesus will pay an extravagant bride-price to possess the Pearl, an atoning sacrifice by which she will be made spotless for presentation to the Father.
But how is the church possessed of both wheat and weeds, edible fish swimming gill to gill with bad, considered spotless; again, how are the Elect discerned?
When man and woman marry to be one flesh, they are incapable of keeping hands to themselves. Passion for the other compels the two to be one; they engage in handling, kissing, and whispering affectionate words.
The Pearl, the Woman, hearing, seeing, and sensorially receiving her Lord, takes-on an ever-increasing luster to their mutual delight; it matters not that the world thinks little or ill of the Woman, it is the perception of her Spouse that accounts for her beauty.
As Mary received God’s word from the angel Gabriel, her response was that of the church, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38); and when she was delivered of Jesus and the shepherds proclaimed the angelic witness, she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:19, also v. 51b).
Now we return to the parable of the Sower, chief parable for discerning the Elect. In the manner of Mary, the Elect receive Christ’s broadcast seed to germinate in the soil of our hearts. The good soil desire more and more word brought out of the place of God’s presence and treasure, and delivered in the Body for yields of 100, 60, and 30-fold (Mt. 13:23).
The invisible church, as with all marriages in physical privacy is an “honorable estate” (Heb. 13:4), known only to God and the Elect; in this knowledge of love’s sacrifice there is no doubt. Thus, St. Paul; “[nothing] in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39b). Election is the substance of the Woman’s faith and her assurance. Amen.