by Catherine Upchurch
Special to The Leaven
“Antiques Roadshow” is a perennial favorite among viewers of public broadcasting. Folks bring in all kinds of objects to discover the monetary values and also to share or learn more about the history of their particular items.
Some pieces and their accompanying stories have been handed down for generations. Other pieces were purchased at garage sales. Everyone is hoping to discover from the experts that their item is a treasure beyond compare.
It is fair to say that Jesus wants his listeners and his followers to discover that we too hold a treasure that is unique in all the world. It is not something we earn or can purchase at bargain basement prices. It is a gift that requires some effort to appreciate. It is an awareness of the kingdom of God in our midst; it is in fact the kingdom itself.
Matthew puts together two simple parables from Jesus to help us understand the value of this gift. Recall that for Matthew’s predominantly Jewish audience, “kingdom of heaven” is preferred — not to fix our eyes elsewhere but to avoid uttering the name of God.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Mt 13:44). It’s hard to imagine today why the person buries the treasure and then purchases it when he already had it in his possession. Perhaps the person was a simple laborer who unearthed the treasure while plowing his master’s field.
It would not have been unusual for people in ancient times to bury coins and valuable items when they were being invaded, for example. Later, others, like this laborer, would find the stash. Jesus does not dwell on whether the man should have told the landowner. Instead, the simple story focuses on the man’s zeal and his joy. He is “all in” and sells everything he has to possess the treasure.
A second short parable follows the buried treasure parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it” (Mt 13:45-46). This person is of the merchant class, and we can presume that he has some means to buy what he finds. He is searching for that one thing that will pay off, and when he finds it, he is ready to act.
Both men know that whatever else they have pales in comparison to what they find. Similarly, we are being invited to understand that whatever we possess in this life is of little value in comparison to the kingdom of God. Making the discovery of God’s kingdom in our midst is a cause for joy, for zeal and for a reordering of values.
In both parables, immediate and full possession is not possible without some personal investment. There is some time between discovery and ownership.
Similarly, there usually is time between our discovery of God’s care for us and our complete surrender to this reality. There is time between Jesus offering us the kingdom of God and our ability to rid ourselves of lesser values in order to experience it fully.
On the “Antiques Roadshow,” not all participants go away finding they possess some valuable piece of art, jewelry or dinnerware. These folks may discover that their possessions are nonetheless valuable for sentimental reasons or simply for enjoyment.
But what about those who discover that old painting they brought in is rare and its monetary value far exceeds what they imagined? Do they part with it at auction to make a profit? Or do they treasure it, hoping to pass it on to future generations? Such is the kingdom of God.
Catherine Upchurch is the general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible. She writes from Fort Smith, Arkansas.
With your heart
Jesus invites us to discern what we value. A simple way is to pray about it and look at where our money is spent, what takes up our time and where our energy is invested. Are we moving toward or away from discovering what is of greatest value, the kingdom of God?
Questions for reflection or discussion:
• In a culture like ours that places a great value on security, do you find the zeal of the treasure-finder and the pearl-hunter a bit scary? Irresponsible? Intriguing? Challenging?
• We sometimes discover the presence of God in our midst through relationships with others. How are you nurturing relationships that help you value the things that really matter? How does the kingdom of God manifest itself in your conversations and in your shared values?
• Look around your home at what you consider to be treasures. Do you have a level of detachment from these things so that you could part with them for something of greater value? Is this a spiritual discipline you want to develop?
• The man who bought the field with the treasure does so out of joy. How does joy show up in your life? Do others see in you a deep sense of joy in being a Christian?