The Kingdom of Heaven is like this: a man happens to find a treasure hidden in a field. And, in his joy, he covers it up again and goes and sells all he has in order to get enough money to buy the field. Matthew 13:44, Adapted
Perhaps no parable in this series (Parables of the Kingdom, Matthew 13) would have tickled the imagination of the disciples more than this one. Every village had its story of men who had become suddenly rich by finding some hidden hoard that had been hastily concealed in time of war, tumult or otherwise. Then, as now, there were men who live with the dream of finding such treasure. Or of winning the lotto.
Much can (and has) been made of this parable. But it is a parable. The Kingdom of Heaven is like this. Like is the operative word. But what are we to make of it? Here we explore its three themes: the nature of the treasure, the finding of the treasure, and the integrity of the finder.
What is this treasure hidden in a field? It is not eternal life (the incorruptible inheritance of heaven). Nor is it only Christ, “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and all the riches of grace and glory.” The treasure is the Gospel in its entirety. A treasure of the arc of God’s Providence, of most valuable blessings, of exceedingly great and precious promises, revealing the riches of God, of Christ, and of the coming Kingdom. A treasure not fully knowable this side of glory. But solid, satisfying, and lasting.
What about the finding of the treasure? The treasure hidden in a field.
In ancient times it was difficult for a man to know what to do with his savings. Government often meant oppression and what’s more, war often stalked the land. It was dangerous to be seen to have riches. There were no limited liability companies, banks, or ATM machines. Property often needed to be concealed or portable (Note 1). It was not uncommon to bury treasure in the ground. Several alternatives present themselves for the source of this particular proverbial treasure: i) some hidden hoard, hastily concealed in a time of war or uncertainty; ii) the existing owner of the property either buried it, or was unaware of a mineral or other mine; iii) a man, after burying it, died before he could come back for his wealth; or, iv) in the Providence of God, some other equally plausible explanation.
The important point here is about finding a heretofore unknown treasure. The man in the story may have plodded across that field a hundred times and had never seen the wealth that was lying just below the surface. God’s treasure comes to the world in forms which are hidden or veiled to a great many people. Christ’s Gospel comes among busy men, worldly men, men who are under the dominion of their passions and desires, men who are pursuing science and knowledge, and it looks to them very homely, very insignificant. And they do not know what treasure is lying in it.
And what about the integrity of the finder?
The conduct of the man could be seen as dishonest. Duty and honesty would require him to inform the owner of the discovery. Did we mention this is a parable? That is not Christ’s purpose here. The conduct of the man who finds the treasure and his concealing the fact of his discovery from the owner of the field, does not correspond with notions of integrity, but parables generally, and this parable, do not concern themselves with these questions (Note 2).
It was not necessary, either for the purposes of the parable or for the point to be illustrated, that Jesus should take into consideration the ethical questions involved in such cases. Christ does not intend to vindicate his conduct. It is enough to bring out the pertinent point. The point is the eagerness of the man to obtain the treasure, and the sacrifice he is ready to make for it. The point of the parable lies in his earnestness, his anxiety, his care, and his actually obtaining it. The honesty or otherwise of the man is reasonably excluded from the point of the parable. Not so the wonderous joy at the treasure itself and the earnest surrender to acquire it.
Note 1: Or jewels, easily carried, not easily noticed, easily convertible.
Note 2: Nor was it necessary to consider what the man might do with the treasure once he possessed it. One could easily assume he shared it.