The following is a paper I wrote for my Synoptic Gospels class on the parable of the treasure discovered in a field. I believe this to be a parable of profound implications.
His feet are tired and groan as they greet a familiar surface. He has been down this road many times. The excitement of what lies ahead has long dissipated yet he strolls on. He stretches as he prepares for another day of labor in the fields. His frustration is heard in a sigh as he arrives to see his prison, a floor without walls, yet a prison still. He has worked this ground before, but today will be different. For today he will discover that which will change him forever. Treasure, discovered in a field passed by hundreds daily, never found. Treasure so valuable that it cannot be purchased, but more valuable than the cell it sits beneath. Kingdom treasure this man will unearth today, treasure to be shared by all, but only discovered by few.
The recording of this parable of buried treasure finds itself nestled quietly in Matthews Gospel the thirteenth chapter among several other parables taught by Jesus of Nazareth. As all of the teachings of Jesus, none is more important or valuable than the other, but for today’s purpose we will study but one.
To fully appreciate any of the parables, the reader must have a working knowledge of the context from which the parable is taken. As stated before, this parable is read from the Gospel of Matthew. Few argue the source of this Gospel as it is undisputed that Matthew, the apostle, was the author. The Gospel was written primarily to the Jewish Christians of Palestine and was written to prove that Jesus was the promised Messiah. He focuses on the prophecies of the Old Testament, as they are referenced no fewer than sixty-five times. His goal is to show that Jesus did fulfill the prophecies foreshadowing the Messiah. As to the date of the writing, it was recorded sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem, possibly between 60-65AD(Easton, 2007 (Originaly written in 1897).
The “leading characteristic” of the Gospel, according to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, is that it reveals the kingly glory of Jesus Christ, that it shows him to be the heir to David’s throne. It is the Gospel of the Kingdom. It mentions the Kingdom of Heaven some thirty-two times, outdone only by the gospel of Luke. So as one can see, this concept of the Kingdom of God was a central focus of the Gospel of Matthew, and would have been a concept understood well by the Jewish Christian readers(Easton, 2007 (Originaly written in 1897).
Now let us begin to look at and analyze the parable itself. Jesus begins by telling of a treasure hidden within a field. Ass one first glances upon this passage with modern eyes, she may get somewhat confused. We don’t bury our treasure in fields, we place it in the bank where it is safe and can collect interest. This is the way any smart individual would handle a treasure or sum of money as large as the one mentioned in the parable. However, as MacArthur mentions, this was actually a very common practice in the time of Jesus’ ministry. Banks did not exist for the common people, only the wealthy. And, even at that, banks were not the safest place one could keep their valuables. In fact, keeping your valuables in any place that could be easily discovered was very unwise in a land ravaged by war. If one did have valuables discovered by a conquering force, those treasures became the possession of the ruling body. Burying treasure and valuables was something done often to avoid such devastation (MacAruthur).
It was also common for someone of this time to find buried treasure in a field. As servants worked the field they may discover treasure buried by previous owners of the field who had been killed or died before revealing to relatives where that treasure was. Even Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, speaks of the treasure that the Jewish people buried in the ground (MacAruthur).
Moving on to interpretation, this parable becomes one of profound significance in understanding the reaction that an individual will have when discovering something as valuable as the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. This becomes evident upon reading commentary in studying this passage.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the passage begins by comparing the treasure in the parable to Jesus. “Jesus is the true Treasure; in him there is an abundance of all that which is rich and useful, and will be a portion for us” (Henry). According to Henry, the Gospel is the field in which the seeker finds Jesus, the treasure. This treasure is hidden within the pages of Scripture. I’m not sure they are hidden, but one sees the point Henry is trying to make.
Henry, further along, brings out some very interesting concepts when studying the parable of the treasure buried in a field. He argues that the reason why so many people come by the Gospel yet continue on in life, is because they are only looking upon the surface of the field. No one who walked by this field would have purchased it for what this man purchased it for. Why? Because they only saw what was on the surface, which was dirt. There is nothing very appealing about dirt. When speaking of Christianity, many pass by every day, never knowing the treasure that is buried beneath its institutes (Henry).
As the reader continues on in this parable, she discovers that the man in the parable goes on to bury again the treasure so no one can find it. Upon first glance this seems to be a very unholy act. This man has found buried treasure in a field that does not belong to him. Isn’t it dishonest to go and buy the field for the treasure? Not exactly. Jewish Rabbinic law stated that whatever a man finds, that he owns. So this man was putting the law to work for his benefit. Further, if the man had been a dishonest man, he would have taken the treasure after unearthing it (MacAruthur).
Further study reveals this to be a holy jealousy, as Henry calls it. The finder of this treasure wants to hid it so as to keep Satan from getting between the finder and the field. Some think this to be reaching a bit in interpreting this parable. However, there is more treasure here to be discovered (Henry).
Notice that the crux of the story rests in the man going and selling all that he has to purchase this field. The moral seems obvious to the hearer, the Kingdom of God is worth going and selling all one has, sacrificing all for it. Yes, but upon looking closer one sees even more here. The man doesn’t go and sell all that he has to purchase the treasure. Why? Because the man cannot afford the treasure. It is worth more than what the man can pay for it. However, the man can sell all to purchase the field. The man can afford the field. In much the same way, we buy into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford the grace given to us, the grace to live, eat, breathe, etc. The price for such grace is more than one can afford. We can, however, sacrifice all for the Kingdom. And as with all that God offers His children, treasure is soon discovered by those willing to dig a bit deeper (MacAruthur).
As with the parables found before this one, this one is a twin to the parable of the “Pearl of Great Price”. As Blomberg points out, “in the first parable, the man stumble across the treasure; in the second, he is searching for costly pearls. Whether seeking or stumbling, people who find out about God’s kingly reign should do whatever it takes to submit to it.” (Blomberg).
There he is, sweat dripping into pools at his toes. The strain in his back felt as he bends to relieve the earth of a bit more of her load when he sees peering through the brown, a bit of gold. He brushes his forehead and shakes his brain to ensure he is standing before what his eyes are yelling. There it is, treasure. Treasure so valuable that he must rid himself of all to gain all.
Blomberg, Craig L. Jesus and the Gospels. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.
Easton, M.G. Eastons Bible Dictionary. 1 April 2007 (Originaly written in 1897). 8 December 2009 <http://www.blueletterbible.org/search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?type=GetTopic&Topic=Matthew,+Gospel+According+To&DictList=2#Easton%27s>.
Henry, Matthew. “Commentary on Matthew.” 1 March 1996. blueletterbible. 8 December 2009 <http://www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/comm_view.cfm?AuthorID=4&contentID=1608&commInfo=5&topic=Matthew&ar=Mat_13_44>.
MacAruthur, John. “The Parables of the Kingdom.” 1986. biblebb. 8 December 2009 <http://www.biblebb.com/files/mac/sg2303.htm>.