Reflection: Matthew 13: 44 – 46
Parables are short allegorical stories used to illustrate a specific point or truth. Unless we understand the focus of these illustrative stories, its thrust can be misinterpreted. In Matthew 13, the Lord explicated the multifaceted concept of the newly inaugurated kingdom of heaven (cf. Matt 3:2 & 4:17), all in parables. In these two inter-related analogies, Jesus is certainly not teaching about the ethics of buying property or taking advantage of material investment opportunities, nor is it about greed or buying our way into the kingdom of heaven. They depict a dichotomized view of the kingdom of heaven, similar to all the parables in this chapter: as represented by two men who came across something of inestimable value and their reactions to it, distinguishing them from those outside the kingdom.
Some background: Prior to the availability of banking services, burying one’s treasures was the norm in those days, in order to keep them safe in times of danger and turmoil, and the wealthy usually hide them in different parts of their estate. So finding someone’s aged buried treasure chest is rare, but a distinct possibility. The parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30) illustrates this normal practice. Pearls are highly prized jewels, at times even more valuable than gold in the ancient world.
In both cases, after their discoveries, the men sold literally everything they possessed, in order to pay for their respective finds. The overwhelming joy of owning it (the parallelism in these verses enable us to assume that ‘joy’ was common in both), made them sell all they had willingly (v.44, 46), as they deduced that the treasure or pearl was worth much more than all they had ever owned. So how do these two parables relate to God’s kingdom?
The immediate lesson is that the kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure or a costly pearl that is waiting to be found by anyone who either seeks it accidentally (v.44) or purposefully (v. 45-46). And when it is discovered, the whole-hearted commitment to the kingdom entails a costly personal sacrifice of all they possessed, in order to enjoy its blessings.‘Selling everything he owned’ (vv.44, 46) will demand a change in their perspective and values; tantamount to turning their backs on their self-identified goals to single-mindedly pursue change at all levels of existence as they are consumed by the immediate rewards of the kingdom. There apparently are no half-measures in this radical ‘either-or’ situation. It reminds us of Paul’s practiced discipline in counting all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord (Phil 3:8). Paul’s heart was melted by the love of God to the extent that it drew from him an unswerving reciprocal response of costly servanthood. The parable of the priceless pearl is hyperbolic, as it impoverished this merchant, unless he parted with his precious pearl. But again, the message is clear, to have found the kingdom is to find a pearl whose value eclipses all others put together.
It can be somewhat traumatic to give up our independence and comfortable lifestyles for apparent heavenly intangibles as it impacts our individual identity, our social responsibility, and our earthy spiritual moorings.But the kingdom’s worth is incalculable by any criterion, being the greatest of treasures, and only its joyful inheritors who receive its message and respond in discipleship, have begun to experience the reality and wonder of the kingdom’s presence. They seek first the kingdom, sacrificing all to it, but paradoxically finding all they need in it, in this world (Matt 6:33; 10:39).