We continue our series “Seeing Beyond the Parables” with a look at the parables of the hidden treasure and the Merchant seeking a pearl of great value. Contextually, these two parables are only three verses found in Matthew 13:44 -46. These metaphors follow the explanation that Jesus gives his disciples about his earlier parable of the weeds. Contextually in this chapter, Jesus explains why he teaches in parables (v. 10, v.34), then he explains the parable of the Sower (v.18-23), then he explains the parable of the Weeds (v.36-43). And in-between these big parables and their explanations, he offers the other parables. While these parables provide meaning in and of themselves, Matthew’s editorial layering in this passage is clearly hinting at a bigger message.
Like quilt squares, parables are intended to be assembled into something bigger than each part.
Is there more to the treasure and the merchant than the mere importance of Heaven? Church history, and particularly modern evangelicalism, seem to offer little more than we better value going to Heaven more than anything. By displacing the Kingdom to “one-day after we die,” institutional religion has conveniently empowered itself by creating dependents. Perhaps there is more here for those who seek to grow their faith.
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.
Like the other parables, this couplet belongs together. The parables teach that the Kingdom of heaven is like…treasure and person. One is an object (treasure) and the other is subject (person). Off the top, we immediately learn that heaven is both objective and subjective. This becomes clearer the more parables we stitch together.
Below are a few observations of each:
Treasure: (Objectively Everything)
- The term “thesauros” means storeroom, treasure box, or treasure. The implication of treasure is that it is exceedingly valuable, it would make its owner very wealthy, or it means to have great riches.
- The metaphor used is a man who discovers this store of great wealth and then “krupto” (hid, made invisible, made it a secret). Let’s double click on this. The kingdom of heaven is like stumbling upon something that will make a person extremely wealthy. So why bury it? This is where the closer look illuminates the core meaning of the parable, namely, it’s not that heaven is valuable, but that heaven is valuable for those who would seek advantage in the world.
- The man buried the treasure he discovered, he didn’t unearth it. He buried it so that no others could come and take it or lay claim to it. So why didn’t he just take it? Instead, he leaves it and then buys the fields so that he could have a legal right to it.
- The buying of the field requires “selling” (present tense, not past) everything he has so he can posses it. He is trading his present life for a potential life. The former is contingent on the latter. Had he kept something back, he would not possess the field.
- A thief could just take it, but this man is not a thief. A treasure that costs us nothing is not analogous heaven. It must cost all (ta panta). The selling everything is a vital pre-condition of this story which is further illustrated in the next parable.
- What’s the value of a $1 Billion dollar idea? Would we trade everything we own, everything we’ve acquired up till now, for something potentially that valuable?
Person: (Subjectively Ongoing)
- In (v.45), the term “emperos” is a derivative of “emporeumai” which means to “be in business“. So the text is rendered, “The kingdom of heaven is like a person… a merchant, or business person.” This person of business is “zetounti“(searching, demanding, desiring, attempting, or seeking). A key observation in the text is the present, active, dative, participle. He or she is looking for “kalos” (beautiful, fitting, advantageous, or high value) pearls.
- The hidden “gem” here (no pun intended) is that both of these tandem parables are really about the search for advantage in this world (not another world). He’s speaking about the ongoing desire of all humanity for beauty, and advantage.
- Like the man who sold all he had to buy the field, this business person sells “pepaken” all he has (ta panta osa). Here the Greek renders this as a plusquam form which means that it marks this event and a factual state of being, or constantly selling, or ongoing present reality. This renders the text to say: This business person finds a pearl for which he or she is continually selling all he or she has in order to possess it.
So what is Jesus revealing about Heaven?
First off, Heaven is here and it’s deeply integrated with all of human life. Heaven is particularly advantageous for the those who are seeking to get the most out of this world. No, this is not prosperity doctrine, but the recalibration of our worldview, to see heaven not merely as being more important, but that possessing heaven now requires “all we have” which reorders every priority and gives us a tremendous advantage.
Well, what happens to people who put all they have (ta panta osa) all they are into the temporal acquisitions of life like a job, a hobby, a passion project, or perhaps even a family? These things aren’t wrong or bad, but they are not intended to be our identity. When a person is wrapped up in the wrong identity, he or she will not know who they truly are, and life will be a distraction. Heaven is when this person get’s a glimpse of who they truly are and opens their hand to anything that is not that.
The Treasure and the Merchant tell us that heaven is stumbled upon. It’s also something for which we are constantly seeking at our deepest level. In the world’s pursuit for heaven, too many people have been given religion instead…or a fictional story of evacuation propaganda, and not the lived human experience. Certainly not a kingdom which runs on freedom and love rather than hate and control. So this parable seeks us out…What good is that thing we really want if we live in a world where it can’t be enjoyed? Better yet…If we can possess this freedom now, we should never concern ourselves again with life after death.
The direction is clear. We must wake up to the objective treasure beneath our feet. We must ever be seeking the subjective. What amount of our pseudo-lives are we willing to forfeit to possess this kind of advantage? If the answer is not “All I have“, then we have not understood heaven.
If we can’t possess heaven here…today…why would we believe religion will allow us to possess it once we die?