We’re given two more parables to contemplate this week. They’re the last in a series of parables taken from chapter thirteen of Matthew’s Gospel. Their theme is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus put these two short teachings into an interesting context – treasure.
Some background might be helpful for your interpretation of this parable. As I’ve done in my commentaries for the past two Sundays, I won’t share my interpretation with you. Yours is more important because the parable was spun to speak to your heart.
The first parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
First – In the time that Jesus lived it was common practice to bury one’s valuables for safe- keeping. Recall the parable of the talents. “The man who received one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money.” (Matthew 25:18) People did use banks in those days, but they sometimes buried their valuables. Having a long history of insurrections and invading armies, people often thought it prudent to hide their valuables in the ground so that if the political situation suddenly shifted they could flee quickly, and their valuables would be safe. So it wasn’t uncommon to find buried treasure in fields or under the foundations of homes. Previous owners who had fled their homes for one reason or another had buried their valuables hoping to return when the political situation became better. For us, if we should we find a treasure it belongs by right to the government. Under Jewish law, however, finders were keepers. So the situation in the parable would seem perfectly natural for those listening to Jesus.
Second – The man found the treasure in a field. He was a farmhand. He wasn’t walking along digging holes in the ground looking for treasure. He found it by accident. He wasn’t like those people we often see walking along our beaches with metal detectors hoping to find something of value buried beneath the sand. This man was in a field. He discovered the treasure while he was working.
Third – The farmhand immediately re-buried the treasure, “and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44b) He didn’t pick up the treasure and run away with it. He sold all that he had and bought the field.
The Second parable. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” (Matthew 13:45-45)
In Jesus’ day pearls were very popular. They were valuable and sometimes very expensive but, above all, they were prized for their beauty. Merchants scoured the seaport towns along the Red Sea and the Mediterranean searching for the most perfect pearl. In the parable, when that perfect pearl was found, nothing that the merchant had was worth keeping. “He goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” (Matthew 12:46)
The apparent difference between the two parables. In the parable of the treasure found in the field, the farmhand discovered the treasure by accident. He was just going about his daily work when he made this great discovery! In the parable of the pearl of great price, the merchant had been searching for the perfect pearl his whole life. He finally found it! Both men were filled with such joy that they didn’t hesitate a single moment to sell all they had to obtain the treasure they discovered. I invite you to ponder these two parables independently of each other. Remember the nature of a parable; it was spun just for you. Why does God want you to hear this parable about finding a treasure in a field? Why does God want you to ponder the life-long quest for the perfect pearl? I end my reflection once again with the words of Jesus. “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” (Matthew 13:43b)