“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.” Matthew 13:44
By Rev David Fotheringham, Minister at High Street Uniting Church, Frankston
I suddenly have a new favourite parable: the little parable in Matthew 13 in which Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field that somebody found, and then bought the whole field. It’s now my favourite parable, because I have just begun to understand the protagonist to be God, and us to be the treasures.
A few verses before, Jesus illustrated the kingdom of heaven with parables that involved a mustard seed that someone planted in a field, and yeast that a woman mixed into flower. In those images in those images it is clear that God fits the protagonist, sowing the word of the gospel in us, though even that includes some profound insight: it suggests that the kingdom of heaven’s “King” is a woman kneading the dough, a man out in the fields – a very earthy kind of royalty.
I think I’ve only ever heard the parables that talk about someone finding a treasure and a merchant finding a pearl interpreted as being about how we might find faith by chance or after much searching, but either way the implied moral of the story is that should value it. As a moral tale, I’ve always found that rather underwhelming.
What I love about these parables now is seeing that they work in the same way as the ones about the mustard seed and the yeast. The kingdom is illustrated by what the “King” is doing, rather than being equated with the treasure. After all, the gospel is all about the Word of God taking on earthy flesh, dwelling among us… and finding treasure! A fisherman here, a tax-collector there, a woman by a well. We are the treasure! And Jesus literally gives his all – he gives his life – for the treasures that he finds. Indeed, you could say that he buys the whole field!
And God continues to search, painstakingly and loving, seeking out the pearls of great price, seeking out us. Like the fisherfolk sorting through the nets looking for fish that bring joy. This is what the Kingdom of God is like! And in this Kingdom of God, God invests in each of us: she works in a little yeast, he plants a mustard seed.
I always found the use of a mustard seed for an illustration perplexing, because mustard bushes are widely seen as weeds. After all, a mustard seed is so tiny that it can get mixed up among the seeds that you want to cultivate, and then this great weed of a mustard bush springs up in the middle of your cultivated rows. Yeast isn’t universally seen positively, either. But then, sometimes God works into our lives things that are not just simple and good. I’m all too aware that it is often the difficult things that we need to work through that become the greatest sources of growth for us.
And through it all, we are treasured – because that’s what the kingdom of God is like.