• 1 Kngs 3:5, 7-12
• Psa 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
• Rom 8:28-30
• Mt 13:44-52
How good are you and I at recognizing something that is valuable, even priceless?
That question captures some of what the final three parables in Matthew 13 are meant to impress upon readers. These parables are all quite short, but along with the previous four parables they show how important it was to Jesus to repeatedly explain the mystery of the Kingdom from different but complimentary perspectives.
The parable of the treasure buried in the field and the parable of the pearl draw upon common but powerful experience: the joy of discovering what was previously hidden. Man, by nature, is a creature of curiosity, a seeker who believes there is something really worth seeking. And while his curiosity can be caught up for a time in natural wonders and pleasures, he always longs for more. He wants to discover who he is and why he exists. The answers to those essential questions can be given only by God.
Some of the early Christian Fathers saw in the parable of the treasure a metaphor for the Incarnation and how the truth about God is finally found hidden in a man—not any man, but the Son of God, Jesus Christ. “If any one, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention,” wrote Saint Irenaeus, “he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling. For Christ is the treasure which was hid in the field, that is, in this world . . . but the treasure hid in the Scriptures is Christ, since He was pointed out by means of types and parables” (Against Heresies, 4.26.1).
The treasures of Christ and Scripture are intimately linked to one another, for Christ fulfills Scripture even as, of course, Scripture proclaims Christ. Both can be explored by the seeker of Truth. As Jesus stated earlier in Matthew’s Gospel: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7).
But why does the man who finds the treasure bury it again? Because by law the treasure belongs to the owner of the field, which means the man must purchase, or redeem, the entire field. His decision is a radical one: he “sells all that he has and buys that field.” In doing so, perhaps he makes a new start, renouncing his old, self-centered way of life for the pursuit of what is good, perfect, and holy—the person of Jesus Christ. “Indeed, the preaching of the Gospels has no strings attached,” remarked Saint Hilary about this parable, “but the power to use and own this treasure with the field comes at a price, for heavenly riches are not possessed without a worldly loss.”
Buying the entire field in order to have the treasure reflects, in a way, how God has redeemed the entire world so that he might save those who accept the invitation to become his children, freed from their bondage to sin and the evil one. As children of God by grace, Christians emulate the perfect example of the One who was a Son by nature, giving up everything in order to have the treasure, to hold the pearl of great price.
At first glance the final parable might appear to be a sudden, harsh departure from the joyful images preceding it. What does the final judgment and the fiery torments of hell have to do with the Kingdom? It is this: we must choose, and we must act accordingly. There is no compromise, nor is there time to waste. We may die at any moment; we assuredly will meet our mortal end. We are the ones who will write the endings to the parables by the choices we make.
The question asked by Jesus of the disciples is also asked of us today: “Do you understand all these things?” If our answer is “Yes,” then we know what is valuable, even priceless. Which means one thing: its time to start digging!
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the July 27, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)