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Pastor Glenn McDonald: Unexpected Treasure


Unexpected Treasure


Dr. Alexander Fleming was something of a slob.


The Scottish biologist failed to clean up his lab in the basement of St. Mary’s Hospital in London before heading off on summer vacation in 1928.


This was nothing new. He hated throwing out bacterial cultures until he had learned everything he possibly could. His friends routinely teased him about his messy lab. But when he came back from his summer break, his overgrown Petri dishes yielded a discovery that changed the history of medicine.


As Fleming gave his cultures a final glance before tossing them into the wastebasket, he noticed something.


“That’s funny,” he said, his voice trailing off.


A mold had contaminated one of the plates. Around the perimeter of the mold, there was a clear bacterial no-growth zone. Was it possible that the mold inhibited the growth of the bacteria?


It didn’t take long to identify the invasive fungus. It was a common growth called penicillium, the sort of mold that messes up your Wonder Bread when it’s been on the shelf too long. The biologist decided to name the antibiotic component in the mold “penicillin.”


Fleming, who would have been known as “the really shy guy” at a conference of introverts, published a paper on what he discovered but never followed up with further research or attempts to spread the word.


But World War II changed all that.


Myriads of soldiers who had survived firefights were succumbing to the infections that ravaged their wounds. Scientists, desperate to find a wonder drug, came across Fleming’s paper.


The rest is history.


In June 1942 there was only enough penicillin in the world to treat 10 patients. By the end of the war, 21 drug companies had joined forces to produce 650 billion units (that’s billion, with a B) every single month. Fleming was honored with the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1945.


It’s impossible to estimate how many million human beings have survived life-threatening conditions during the past 80 years because of penicillin. Which is good news if you happen to be living with a neat freak. Now you can say, “Honey, I know it looks like a mess, but to the Nobel Committee this is frontline research.”


The Scottish biologist himself remained unfailingly humble. “One sometimes finds what one is not looking for.”


That’s reminiscent of two of Jesus’ parables, which come back-to-back in the Gospel of Matthew: “The kingdom of heaven is like 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. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44-46).


The field digger and the pearl merchant make the discoveries of a lifetime. What should they do?


They sell everything to take hold of the One Thing that will change everything. Scripture makes it clear that when we have the chance to abandon ourselves to a transforming relationship with God, no price is too high.


Most of us don’t wake up on yet another ordinary morning suspecting this will be the day we make the biggest discovery of our lives.


Jesus suggests we ought to live with just such anticipation – and act boldly when it’s in our power to steward a treasure that God has chosen to entrust to us.


So stay alert today.


You never know what might turn up in that pile of dirty dishes.

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