Catherine and I do not have a television, so during lockdown we (mainly me) have been watching more DVDs than usual. I managed to pick up a few second hand copies of Hustle and worked my way through the first four series. If you are not familiar with Hustle, it was a popular television programme a few years ago about a group of grifters and their elaborately staged confidence tricks.
In one episode, they managed to sell a piece of land in inner London that was supposed to be on the site of an old Roman Gold mine that still had unworked seams. In keeping with the ethos of the series, it was of course all a con. The thing about a good con is that it has to include claims that are barely believable, but just enough so to hook a greedy sucker.
Some of the stories of Jesus would have made a good basis for an episode of Hustle. He told one about a man who found some treasure in a field and sold everything he owned in order to buy the field so that the treasure would be his. He told another about a man who was a trader in pearls who came across one that was the best he had ever seen. He too went and sold everything in order to buy that one pearl.
In both cases, Jesus compared the incidents to someone discovering the Kingdom of Heaven. The points he made, and he made them very clearly, both in these stories and in the rest of his teaching, was that firstly, the Kingdom of Heaven is very precious indeed, and secondly, that it would cost a man or woman everything they had in order to get it. Now the strange thing is, that most of us respond to Jesus as if he is trying to pull a fast one on us. We consider the risk is just too high to lay everything that we have and are on the line, in exchange for something that seems barely real.
True, virtually every Christian in virtually every church is prepared to give lip service to the importance and value of the Kingdom. Day after day, a substantial proportion of the earth’s population appear to faithfully pray that God’s Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. However, it is hard to seriously believe that many of the prayers stretch beyond the sort of wishful thinking that accompanies the purchase of a couple of lottery tickets – wouldn’t it be great if God’s Kingdom did actually manifest in our lives, but we don’t really expect that it will.
The problem is, as the stories of Jesus illustrate, we have to give everything first, before we can receive the Kingdom, and then we have to move into the realm of Spirit led faith in order to see it work out in our lives. Perhaps it would be good to investigate Jesus’ claims as if they might be a con. If we decide they are, then we can safely forget about the Kingdom of God and just treat it on the same level as we do Cinderella or Peter Pan. However, if, after thorough investigation, we decide that Jesus was actually telling the truth and the Kingdom really is worth everything, then what could be more sensible than paying the price of a full surrender of all we have and are in exchange for it?