‘The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field
(Matthew 13:44 New Living Translation)
I hate gardening.
Before leaving home for a ministry trip to Poland I stepped into my front garden one very, very hot September afternoon with sweat pouring off my face. I decided to start digging out hundreds of grape hyacinth bulbs – lovely flowering plants that had taken over wholesale like weeds. My back was already aching from a morning session at the gym. It would take me nearly an hour to clear this lot. As I was about to press my foot begrudgingly on the gardening fork to make a start, Jesus spoke to me: ‘My Father is the gardener.’
‘Yes, I know,’ I argued. ‘It says so in John 15 verse 1.’
He persisted: ‘My Father enjoys gardening.’
‘Well, of course. Heaven is a garden city, like a renewed Garden of Eden. I know!’
‘And he’s your Father, too. You have his DNA – his nature. So you also can enjoy gardening!’
You can’t argue with that, I thought. And I love my wife, who’d been very busy for weeks helping our daughter look after her new baby and her older two children. Since I wanted to bless her when she got back, I agreed and set to work with some vigour.
An hour later, when she arrived, she was well surprised and happy. As was my Father, he too was happy and blessed. I had done hot, sweaty, aching work for her and for him.
A Polish Legend
One of my favourite cities anywhere on earth is Cracow in Poland. It is the city from which Pope John Paul went to Rome. Most Polish people are Roman Catholics.
But also in Cracow for centuries, in the district of Kuzmir, lived hundreds of Jewish people. Over 300 years ago there lived here a very generous Jewish businessman called Isaac Jacobovits who built a huge synagogue that is still in use today. It is in fact known as Eisik’s Synagogue. And there’s a folk tale that the Jewish people of Poland have told their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren:
In the Jewish district of Cracow lived a very godly Jew called Eisik. Although he prayed to God night and day, and never stopped praising him, he remained terribly poor. He never asked God to make him rich, and never complained in God’s ear.
Eventually, God decided to reward him. One night in his sleep Reb Eisik had a dream of a beautiful city full of golden roofs, with a mighty stone bridge across a foaming fast-flowing river. Into his dream came a voice of mystery commanding him, ‘Reb Eisik, go to the city of Prague in Bohemia right away. There, on the bridge across the Vltava River you will hear some good news which will change your life completely.’
He gave it a lot of thought next day. But it seemed too difficult for a poor man to leave his wife and little children and walk such a long way across Poland into Bohemia.
But the dream came back next night and the night after that. The awesome voice seemed to become angry. So, on the third day he took a walking stick and a traveller’s bundle, said goodbye to his family and set off to Prague. After many weeks of walking Eisik came to the city that looked just as it had done in his dreams. He soon found the river and its stone bridge. He walked slowly across, glancing at the rapid Vltava River, and admired the Hradcany Castle on the hill towering over the city. Back and forth, back and forth he slowly walked, eyes peeled for any person who might want to give him good news. But no such thing happened.
He began to think the dream was just a bad joke. But he never gave up. He kept praying to God and praising him day and night. On the seventh day a stranger came up to him and asked, ‘Excuse me, sir. Why do you spend so much time on the bridge? You seem to me to be a poor Jew with sad eyes looking for someone or something in the crowd.’
Eisik felt he should tell the stranger neither his name not his city. ‘Well, you see, I had a dream night after night telling me to come to Prague’s stone bridge over the Vltava River where I would meet someone who would give me good news that will change my life.’
The stranger burst out laughing. ‘Ah you poor fool,’ he said when he got his breath back. ‘I too used to have a silly dream like that. I’d hear a voice of mystery saying: “There is a priceless treasure buried among the roots of an old pear tree in Cracow in the garden of a Jew called Eisik.” But I would never try to waste my time and energy on a pointless journey. Don’t be so superstitious, my friend. Get a life!’
Off the stranger went, still chuckling to himself and shaking his head. When he was out of sight, Reb Eisik thanked God in heaven and hurried home to Cracow. The journey home seemed shorter and easier.
As soon as he got back he started digging in his garden, under the old tree. Almost immediately the spade struck a huge metal chest. He lifted its heavy lid. What treasures he found inside, of gold and jewels. He shared many a gem with the poor and said thank you to God by building the magnificent meeting place – Eisik’s Synagogue.
While visiting a church in Konin in Poland, the woman who interpreted me from English into Polish was a 32-year old school teacher called Jola.
Just before I left the church, as she sat beside me, she requested a favour. ‘My father is dead. I live with my mother. Would you ask God to find me a Christian husband, please?’ I readily obliged.
Two-and-a-half years later, I was returning to Konin with my good friend Mariusz, my regular interpreter. As he drove his car down the motorway, I asked him, ‘Do you know that lady who interpreted for me last time – a schoolteacher of your age?’
‘You mean Jola?’
‘Yes. Is she married yet?’
‘She’d make a good wife for you,’ I suggested, hoping to answer my prayer for her!
I was not now looking forward to seeing her in case she told me: ‘Your prayer was a waste of breath. I’m still single.’
On Sunday morning, ten minutes before the service started, there appeared close up against my nose, red hair over a pale round freckled face – somewhat blurred, as I am rather long-sighted. I took a step back to get things in focus. ‘Jola?’ I asked, as I wasn’t too sure, because interpreters stand beside you so that you can’t really see what they look like. ‘How’s your mother? Is she here?’ ‘She’s well, thank you. She’s on her way.’
I took a deep breath, swallowed hard, and asked: ‘So, how are things?’
‘I’m married,’ she announced with a smile.
‘Wow!’ I said. ‘How long?’
‘Well, where’s the lucky man?’
‘He’s parking the car. You know him.’
I Googled my brain’s memory bank, but couldn’t remember any young man in this church from my previous visit. Then she leaned forward, put her lips to my left ear and whispered, ‘And I’m expecting a baby.’
‘Wow!’ again I gasped. ‘I only found out today,’ she added.
Then, in he came. Sure I remembered him – another Mariusz who had been a student in the Bible College. They had both been in that church for six years and didn’t even like each other – until Easter that year. That’s when they each found treasure in their own garden, so to speak, right under each other’s noses, like Reb Eisik’s pear tree! It had been hidden there all along!
Then Mother came in; she looked ten years younger. She was beaming as she told me what a wonderful son-in-law she’d got. ‘We’re all good friends together,’ added Mariusz.
May they all ‘live happily ever after’!