"Like Treasure Hidden in a Field"

Proper 12.A.23
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

Of all the parables told by Jesus, this is one of the shortest, taking up all of one verse…one sentence. But it is the custom of Our Lord, is it not, to say a good deal with few words….and, truth be told…who doesn’t like a good treasure story.

Picture the scene. A first-century Hebrew walks alone on a hot afternoon, staff in hand. His shoulders are stooped, his tunic stained with sweat. But he doesn’t stop to rest. He has had pressing business in a distant town and is now headed home. He veers off the road into a field, seeking a shortcut. He knows the owner won’t mind--travelers are permitted this courtesy. The field is uneven. To keep his balance he thrusts his staff into the dirt. Thunk. The staff strikes something hard. He stops, wipes his brow, and pokes again. Thunk. Something is under there, and it’s not a rock.

The weary traveler’s curiosity wins out. He jabs at the ground. Lo and behold, something reflects a sliver of sunlight. The man drops to his knees and starts digging. Five minutes later, he’s uncovered a case fringed in gold. By the looks of it, it’s been there for decades. Hands shaking and heart racing, he pries off the lock and opens the lid. Gold coins! Jewelry! Precious stones! A treasure more valuable than anything he’s ever imagined. Some wealthy person must have buried the treasure and died suddenly, its secret location dying along with him.

There’s no homestead nearby. Surely the current landowner has no idea this ancient treasure is here. The traveler buries the chest and marks the spot. He turns to head home--only now he’s not plodding with exhaustion, he’s skipping like a child and smiling broadly. What a find! Unbelievable! I’ve got to have that treasure! (He thinks to himself) But I can’t just take it, that would be stealing. But, by law, whoever buys a field assumes ownership of all that’s in it. And he considers how to afford the property. I’ll sell my farm…and my crops….all my tools…even my prize oxen. Yes, if I sell everything, that should be enough!

From the moment of his discovery, the traveler’s life changes. The treasure captures his imagination. It’s his reference point, his new center of gravity. The traveler takes every new step before him with this treasure in mind. What that traveler has experienced is a paradigm shift. This story is what is captured by Jesus in a single verse: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

It shouldn’t surprise us that some thoughtful people have questioned the ethics of the man’s purchase without disclosing the treasure to the owner--so a bit of history (and rabbinical law) is in order. In our day, we can store treasure in the bank or a safe deposit box. However, in Jesus’ day, burying treasure was an extremely common way of safeguarding it. In fact, according to rabbinical law, burying a treasure was the most secure way of protecting it. One’s treasure might be stolen by thieves or plundered by foreign invading armies. But if it were hidden skillfully, rarely would it be detected.

But people often died in such invasions or passed on without disclosing the location of the treasure to a relative. In that case, a hoard of buried coins or jewels might be discovered that would make its finder rich. Notice that the man doesn’t simply take the treasure--he buys the field--he becomes of the rightful owner of all that lies therein.

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven--the Kingdom of God--is like this treasure--it’s worth everything we have in order to make it our own. And, certainly, this parable helps us to understand the life-changing worth of a treasure such as this.

Perhaps you are tempted to reason “That sounds nice…but I’ve got stuff already…I’ve got stocks, property, families ties, responsibilities--I can’t just chuck it all on a whim to pursue the Kingdom of Heaven.”

How might we get to the same place as the apostle Paul who wrote in his letter to the Philippians (3:7-8) “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”?

There are, I believe, two keys to understanding this parable. The first is joy and the second is consequence. Joy is what that man found--and it was worth everything he had to get it. The gift of joy (as opposed to happiness) is this. Joy comes from God. It is sourced from the character of God and is empowered by God’s promises. Fullness of joy is found in the presence of God. Remember this verse from Psalm 16: “You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

I believe it helps for us to understand the value of this treasure by considering how God pursues treasure. A hint is found on the cover of today’s program.

You see, we are the treasure of God! Our salvation was worth everything Jesus had (his very life). We might look upon a cemetery and consider that what’s in there is worth very little save for the sentiments of the loved ones of the deceased, reasoning that all that is buried there are just bones and dust--worth nothing, really. But look more closely. The words “coffin” and “casket”. They are derived from the same words that are used for containers of wealth. Furthermore, “vaults” are used to inter this wealth. We are treasured by God--we are worth everything--even the life of God’s Son in order to pursue. Jesus considers us worth all that he had--his very life. If this is the case….what is it worth to you to find such treasure for yourself? What are you prepared to give for the sake of the promise of the Kingdom of God? Time, Talent, Wealth? This parable, like many, is about the issue of stewardship. What matters so much to you so that you find yourself willing to give everything in order to have it?

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.