“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” [Matthew 13:44]
Continuing down the path of talking about things that were hidden, now being revealed or found, our Master Storyteller shines more light on the subject with this parable, but again, from a slightly different angle.
My father was a structural ironworker for many years. In fact, he became the head of the Ironworkers Union in Cleveland for the latter part of his working career. So growing up, it was gently conveyed to me that maybe following in his footsteps (which I later did, working as an Ironworker for twenty two years, right out of high school) would not be his first choice for me. Like most fathers, he wanted something better for his son. So for awhile, in high school, I entertained the thought of being an architect. What a tribute that would have been to my Dad, to stay in the same line of work, somewhat, by still being involved in the construction of buildings and bridges, etc., but doing so from the designing side of things, not the actual physical labor part.
I was already intrigued by the construction process, as Dad had often taken us to see the projects he was working on, to show us what they were building. That gave me a taste for seeing something rising up out of the ground, then watching them grow into these amazing structures sometimes ten or twenty stories tall. Some were even taller than that. So I thought it would really be interesting to be involved in designing something like that and seeing it through to fruition, But, of course, life took me in a different direction.
Back in high school, I did take drafting for a couple of years to see if I was cut out to be an architect. And one of the things we studied was something called “orthographic projection.” That was where you looked at a three-dimensional object and you would try to draw it in a two-dimensional way. To do this, you would do a number of drawings of the object, but from different views…front, top, left side and right side. It was the only way to get a full understanding of the what the object actually looked like, using only two-dimensional images.
I believe Jesus was doing sort of an “orthographic projection” of his word pictures in this cluster of parables, by giving the people a couple of different looks at various aspects of the same subject, “the kingdom of heaven.” Try doing that with just a two-dimensional drawing.
In this particular little one verse illustration, He is talking about someone finding something of value that was hidden. Then, even though he was quite happy about finding it, he takes it and sells it and decides to buy the whole field. It made me wonder, at first. If there was a hidden treasure that you stumbled upon one day and the finding of it made you extremely happy, why would you turn around and sell it. I was originally thinking about something like if my wife had lost her wedding ring and how upset we might be. But then, we actually find it and are extremely happy and relieved. What do we do next? We turn around and sell it, take the money and buy a new car or something like that. Who would do such a thing?
But that is not what was happening here. The situation was more like “The Beverly Hillbillies” (there I go again), who suddenly discovered oil on their property and became very rich, took some of that oil money and “loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly…Hills, that is…swimmin’ pools, movie stars.” Yes, I believe the Lord was talking about someone like Jed, Jethro, Ellie May and Granny, who suddenly became rich by finding a treasure they didn’t even know existed, and selling that treasure (or at least part of it) to buy something that they can enjoy for the rest of their lives, like that big mansion in California the Clampetts bought. I am guessing you never heard this parable explained with a Beverly Hillbillies illustration before. Me neither and again, when I started writing this chapter, that was not in the plans.
See, I told you I wasn’t a theologian. I have to work with what I got. Classic TV shows and music references might just have to do, at times, so bear with me. Like I said, I write from my own experiences. So yes, you got me. Guilty as charged. I watched a lot of TV and listened to a lot of music in my life. There, I admit it. But in fairness, a lot of it was Christian television and Christian music. Does that help my case?
But, all kidding aside, there are a couple of really important nuggets that we need to touch on from this short, but sweet, story. First, the man didn’t find the treasure in his own field. We know that because it says he took the treasure and bought the whole field. So, after the fact, he owned it. But he didn’t at the time he found the treasure. That explains why he hid it again, before selling it. He didn’t know if someone was going to come looking for it, or how long it had been hidden. So he was hiding it somewhere that only he would know where to find it again, until he decided what to do with it. Are you getting the same picture that I am from this story? The last thing you want to do, if you find something of great value, is put it somewhere it is likely to be stolen. No, this man was not going to let that happen. He knew it had great value and he planned to capitalize on it.
And secondly, it says he went and sold all that he had to buy the whole field. That means he invested more than just the treasure he found. It means he had other assets he could sell, as well, to help buy this field. I think it may be this second part that has the most spiritual value for those of us scratching our heads over this one, right about now.
He was not necessarily poor, to begin with. He had other assets. But what he found was important enough and valuable enough to think that there just might be more where that came from, still hiding in that field. Maybe it was was silver or gold….or “black gold” like the Clampetts found. But whatever it was that he found, he believed that land offered even more of a treasure and he wanted all he could get. So he made a point of buying the whole field, even though it meant selling everything that he had to do so. Sure must have been good, whatever it was.
Let me take a stab at whipping up a spiritual lesson out of this, one that hopefully is similar to the main point our Master Storyteller was trying to make. I would like to use the writer of this very Gospel, Matthew (also know to some as Levi), as the main character for my explanation. Not that Jesus was referring to Matthew, but He could have been. It would seem to fit the story.
Matthew was a tax collector, before meeting Jesus of Nazareth. Tax collectors were known to be greedy, dishonest, and usually quite rich in those days. I am not suggesting they were all that way, of course, but that was the perception. Just look at the story that followed Matthew’s conversion. He invites Jesus and the other disciples over to his home to have dinner. The Pharisees immediately get wind of this and begin accusing Him of hanging out with tax collectors and others of questionable character. They asked the disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” They were implying that if He was such a holy man and such a great teacher, He should know better than to hang around with this lot.
But they did not know that Matthew had just found a hidden treasure, one with great eternal value. And they certainly did not realize that he was going to end up selling all that he had, even walking away from his lucrative business, to follow this man, who he believed to be God in the flesh. The Pharisees certainly did not understand all of that. They were just judging him at face value, looking for some reason to accuse Him and discredit Him before the people.
But Matthew got a taste of the kingdom, by interacting with our Lord, albeit a small taste at first. But He knew in his heart there was a lot more where that came from and he wanted all of it. So much so, that he was willing to give up all that he had worked for to receive the fullness of it, when his time on Earth was through.
I think that pretty much describes what the Master Storyteller was trying to communicate. Don’t you?