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Christ is the treasure hidden in the field

On the Readings for Sunday, July 30, 2023, and the parables of the hidden treasure, pearl of great price, and the dragnet

Detail from "Parable of the Hidden Treasure" (c. 1630) by Rembrandt (Image: Wikipedia)

• 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.)

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. He wants to discover who he is and why he exists. Erik Erikson, eminent psychologist named this common post WW II malady Identity Crisis. Post Vat II liturgy adapting contemporary currency had the Gospel translated Whoever loses himself for my sake “discovers who he is”, rather than the original finds his life. Neither Erikson nor Olson are incorrect, except the translation was hackneyed. Urgency is underscored by the author regarding our true identity. Digging reminded me of Kipling’s Jungle Book and the great 1942 movie starring Sabu. Unsavory men discover a hidden treasure beneath the jungle floor. A magnificent golden scepter with an enormous ruby is avariciously seized, years later I dreamt I was there had the scepter in my hand but realized I was dreaming about to wake. I thought perhaps if I hold tight I’ll awaken with it. Fast forward realization of the darkness of avarice, of self indulgent evil compared to the Light that is Christ. Yes we discover in the Son of Man who we are because the effulgence of his humanness draws us to the divinity it so beautifully radiates.

  2. With so much unseemliness and incompetence in the Church over the past decade or more, the Church seems more like a junkyard than a field with a buried treasure. No wonder so many people have left. It’s only going to be worse after Covid, assuming things ever get back to normal, because people will have been conditioned for many months to live without Mass on the weekend, they won’t miss it, and many will probably think there isn’t a treasure there worth seeking.

      • Agree in reading Catholic Church history you come to realize there were many shockingly unsettled times, so to speak. I always wondered why God let that happened; and if you think about it, you are amazed that the Church survived. Now we are knee deep in another one of those times.

        Going back to parable in this Sundays Gospel, to me it hits home that the Christ and Church are treasures we just can’t let go of, in these times we need Crirst and the Church more than ever. It also highlights for me how much I take the treasure for granted and how little I appreciate the treasure.

        • Good points Mike.

          On why evil?
          Both Matthew (18:7) and Luke (17:1)record Jesus saying that bad things HAVE to happen.
          Similar to His saying that the weeds have to be allowed to grow to maturity, before they are separated and destroyed.

          On our valuing of Jesus Christ?
          We’re asked, like Peter was: “Do you love Me? Do you love Me? Do you love Me?”

          The Church?
          Like a neglected field yet those who dig can find true treasure.
          Like a shambolic marketplace yet persevering seekers will find real Wisdom.

          How wonderful is the Word of God! How very good is God!

      • Thank you, Carl. That certainly puts our present problems in perspective. So many popes in so few years.

        With regard to the Pornocracy, it should be noted that Theodora, wife of the Roman consul Theophylactus, is not the earlier Christian martyr after whom Handel named his penultimate oratorio.

  3. Thank you, very seriously sobering. “There is no compromise nor is there time to waste.” Christ will ask us how much do YOU love me and where is YOUR fruits.

  4. Thanks Carl. The Triune God is our eternal Treasure. And we are God’s treasure. He paid dearly for us. (1 Cor. 7:23). One way or another, we will be detached from everything that is not fit for the Kingdom of God.

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