"The Hidden Treasure" (illustration from 'The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ') by James Tissot (1836-1902) [WikiArt.org]
1 Kngs 3:5, 7-12
Psa 119:57, 72, 76-77, 127-128, 129-130
How good are you and I at recognizing something that is valuable, even priceless?
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
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 mannot 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 holythe 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.)