Let me tell you a story. There once was a wealthy man named John Caldwell who owned a large spread of land in Colorado just north of the San Juan Mountains. Next to his land there was a small parcel owned by Cecil Riggens, an old codger who lived in a twenty-foot log cabin. John and Cecil knew each other, but you wouldn't call them friends.

One day John was replacing a rotted fence post on his boundary line when he noticed what he thought was water wetting his neighbor's land. He slipped under the fence and walked toward the large dark splotch.

But it wasn't water. John had gained his wealth during the oil boom in Texas, and he knew the moment he touched the dirt that he was kneeling over a rich oil reservoir. Rarely did oil find its way so near the surface, particularly in Colorado. The details that came out in the lawsuit several years later amounted to this:

For a week, John considered telling the old codger about the oil on his land, but the more he thought about it, the more he began to realize just how much wealth this oil reserve could produce. He slipped onto Cecil's land at night and took samples and when those samples came back, his suspicions were confirmed. The land his neighbor sat on was worth a mint.

John began to develop an obsession. His own wealth, though not depleted, was a fraction of his neighbor's. A month went by, and by this time, John could think of nothing but that plot of land next to his. Late one night he finally decided on a course of action he hoped might work.

The next morning John went to Cecil and explained that he had to file bankruptcy due to some bad business dealings. His own net worth was too much for the IRS to ignore, so he had a plan that would make Cecil rich. He proposed an even trade: Cecil's land for his land.

After recovering from his shock at being offered such a lucrative deal, Cecil agreed and the properties were exchanged.

Three months later an oil well went up. Another three months, and Cecil filed a lawsuit. John won the lawsuit. End of story.

You recognize the tale, don't you? Of course you do. I've embellished it and I've changed the setting, but for the most part you've just read a version of a story Jesus told two thousand years ago. His version was shorter and went like this:

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matt. 13:44) My version highlights a particular aspect of this story that most Christians overlook. The field the man found the treasure in wasn't his. It belonged to someone else. Didn't this man have a moral obligation to inform the lawful owner that he sat on a veritable mint? Instead, our protagonist rushed out and did something quite deceptive.

He didn't offer to buy the treasure from the true owner, but he bought the land, knowing that the owner didn't realize the true value of that land. If this part of the story wasn't important, Jesus could have simply stated that the man sold all he had (a statement of deep desire) and bought the treasure. But he didn't choose to tell the tale that way.

Instead, Jesus turned the story into a tale of obsession.

I realize that I've chosen a strong word, , but strong words are sometimes needed to wake the slumbering from deep sleep. Think about it. What kind of man sells all he has to buy a field? A man obsessed with that field or, as in this case, the treasure in that field.

Clearly, Christ wasn't promoting deception, but he obviously thought it was a useful tool in showing just how far someone might go to secure the kingdom of heaven. He was promoting a kind of obsession with the kingdom of heaven.

Ted Dekker The Slumber of Christianity. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2005, p. 111-113.

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