We’re all familiar with the story of Jack and the Beanstalk—not the jazzed up Hollywood version that’s now playing at your local theatres (or soon will be), but the original version. It’s a simple, straightforward tale when all the special effects are removed.
Jack and his mother are so poor that they have nothing left but an old cow. Mother tells Jack to take it to town and sell it so they can have some money to exist a little longer. On his way, he meets a man who persuades him to trade the cow for some magic beans. When he gets home, his mother is so angry that she throws the beans out the window and sends Jack to bed without supper. Overnight, the beans grow into a giant beanstalk, providing Jack with access to a giant’s castle and some very valuable resources. The story ends happily with the giant dead and Jack and his mother set for life. Jack sacrificed his family’s last possession for something he thought more valuable. It looked as if he had done something foolish, but it turned out to be a wise decision.
Financial advisors tell us it’s not a good idea to risk too much of our money on speculative investments. We’re supposed to keep a balance between stocks and bonds, and only “play the market” with money we can afford to lose. Jack would not do well working with one of these advisors, I’m afraid. He was obviously a risk-taker.
Apparently, so were the people in the stories Jesus told his followers in today’s reading. They were both willing to part with everything they had in order to acquire something they thought was more valuable. Because we know how these stories turn out, we may fail to see the risk involved; but don’t you think people might have ridiculed these men when they made their financially risky moves?
In the first story, a man finds a treasure hidden in a field belonging to someone else. We are not told why he’s on someone else’s property, but there he is. He covers the treasure back up (another questionable action), sells everything he owns, and buys the field. Jesus doesn’t tell us that the man is taking a risk, but he certainly is. What if the owner of the field refuses to sell? What if the treasure had been planted there by the owner for the purpose of making the field seem valuable, and removed once it had served its purpose? But the story turns out well for the man who buys the field. His investment pays off.
The man in the second story seems to be in a less risky position. He sees the most beautiful, perfect pearl imaginable, and sells everything he has so the gem can be his. But where will he get the money to live on? We know he isn’t going to sell his treasure for any reason—not when he has invested so much in it. Day-to-day expenses may be a problem.
Jesus tailored his parables to demonstrate the point he was trying to make. The considerations I have just mentioned weren’t part of the stories because they were beside that point. Jesus was trying to show that some things are so valuable that we must have them at any cost. These men found what they wanted most, did what they had to do to acquire those objects, and were happy with the results. For Jesus, the object of value was the kingdom of God, something worth having at any price.
Charles Du Bos (1882-1939), a French literary critic, understood the point Jesus was trying to make. He said, “The important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”
That’s real risk-taking—the kind of risk-taking Jesus demands from those who would follow him. What are we willing to give up to follow Jesus?