The Greatest Treasure

by Gami Ortiz

 

I’ve written in the past about my fascination with sayings and proverbs. They are great windows into culture and I love learning about other cultures. The parables are very similar in that they were very cultural. Parables were often a story or analogy from everyday life to highlight a spiritual truth. Contrary to what some people think, they’re not really illustrations in the sense that with illustrations, usually the truth is given, then the illustration is given. A parable is more like a doorway – Jesus is on the inside while people stood on the outside the doorway and heard. If they weren’t interested, they stayed outside. If interested, they walked through the door to think about the truth behind the parable. It was an invitation to wrestle with spiritual truths.

 

Two of my favorite parables are found in Matthew 13:

 

Matthew 13:44-46

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

 

These two parallel parables have the same message, the same meaning. In understanding parables, it’s important to know what the key is – kind of like a hook to a joke or pun. As with jokes and puns, Jesus calls for intuitive response, rather than a rational analysis of a parable. It’s not meant to be dissected and analyzed. If you don’t know the key, you miss the meaning of the parable.

 

So what is the key to these parables? The object or focus of each of them is the treasure. Jesus already alluded to their significance – the Kingdom of God. It may seem obvious, but watch what happens when you misunderstand the key. Some commentators say that Jesus is the man who gave all he had to buy the field. The wondrous treasure is us. This interpretation would say that we are so wonderful that Jesus gave all to redeem it. Not to say we aren’t valuable to God, but the significant problem with this interpretation is that it puts us at the center of the gospel story, not Jesus.

 

Knowing that the key is that the treasure/pearl is the kingdom of God, we can see that the point of the parables is that the kingdom of God has unmatched significance, which leads to unequivocal action in which there is unprecedented gain.

 

The actions of the first person are interesting. First, it seems he’s digging up people’s land looking treasure and that’s just bizarre. But in that day, there were no safety deposit boxes at a bank. If there was a raid, enemies took your treasure – anything of value. So it was not uncommon to put your treasure in a jar and bury it somewhere. When you escaped the raid, you’d come back later, when the coast was clear and dig it back up. However, some people never came back (or maybe forgot where they put it), so their treasure remained in the fields. There are stories of wandering sojourners looking for treasure. Likewise, there are stories of laborers digging to prep fields for planting when they suddenly strike a jar of treasure.

 

Then the guy buries the treasure again... why? Well, if he pulls it out, then it rightfully belongs to the owner of the field! Same thing today – you can’t just go into someone’s backyard, dig something up and claim it as yours. So, he hides it again and then buys the field. Seems shady, right? Jesus isn’t concerned with that. He’s not teaching an ethics class here. He’s not trying to justify the behavior or condoning his course of action. He’s merely stating the way in which people actually went about their business. People would have related to this story and said, “yeah, of course he did!”

 

The point is that the man (both of them) recognized that what they’d found was worth more than anything and everything they had. JESUS is worth infinitely more than anything else. And this led to their unequivocal action. There was no ambiguity to what they did. There was no question in their minds. It was deliberate and decisive. They went and sold all they had so that they could ensure they had the treasure. And here’s the thing: they didn’t go about it begrudgingly or out of obligation. They did it out of joy! That’s the only response to the kingdom of God. Because in it, there is unprecedented gain. Though we lose all that we have, we gain everything through Christ. It’s a no-brainer! It’s a good investment; the best return ever.

 

Jesus was using this parable as an invitation for the hearers to engage in the spiritual truth. How do you cause or invite others around you to engage in spiritual truth? With unbelievers, how does your speech cause them to contemplate who Jesus is and more specifically who he is to them?

 

I pray as Paul did, that we would, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:5-6)