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.”
Finding or burying treasures in fields is a common occurrence in films. Off the top of my head I think of “The Shawshank Redemption” and the treasure Andy buried in Buxton, Maine, in a hayfield that Morgan Freeman’s character, Red, later digs up. I think of “Fargo” and the money that Steve Buscemi’s character buries in the snowy field with the intention of coming back later to retrieve it. And I think of the Coen brothers’ film “No Country for Old Men” when Llewelyn finds the briefcase of money in the field.
What is interesting about those examples is that, in two of the three, the money is a negative reality that both results from and leads to crime and violence and bloodshed. Only in “The Shawshank Redemption” is the money buried in the field eventually recovered to good effect.
Apparently these kinds of stories were very popular two thousand years ago as well! The Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary reports:
Treasures were often hidden in fields, because there were no formal banks as we know them today. The intriguing Copper Scroll found at Qumran lists sixty-four places in Palestine where treasures were supposed to be hidden: e.g., “In the ruin which is in the valley, pass under the steps leading to the East forty cubits…[there is] a chest of money and its total: the weight of seventeen talents…”
Jesus told two stories about treasures, one buried in a field and another discovered by a merchant. In both of Jesus’ stories the treasures are positives. In fact, the treasure is the Kingdom of Heaven that is more valuable than anything else we have and that, when grasped, leads ultimately to joy and to life.
The Kingdom of Heaven is an immeasurable treasure.
One of the most obvious takeaways from these two parables has to do with the value of the Kingdom of Heaven. Notice the parallel:
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a 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…
The language is quite clear:
- “like a treasure”
- “fine pearls”
- “one pearl of great price”
These images would certainly have been understood by the original audience as referring to something of almost immeasurable worth. The second parable in particular would have communicated an idea of extravagance. Craig Keener writes that two thousand years ago “[d]ivers sought pearls in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, and some pearls could be worth the equivalent of millions of dollars.” Other commentators have pointed out that some pearls could have had the modern equivalence of $10 million. This is astonishing to say the least!
It is interesting to note how often the New Testament speaks of the Kingdom, or of Christ, or the grace of God, or of the glory of God in terms of great wealth. Consider Romans 10:
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.
Here eternal life and life with and in Christ is depicted as “riches” that are “bestowed” upon those who call on his name. So, too, Ephesians 3:
8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ
Here the idea of “riches” is magnified even more by the description of them as “unsearchable.” In Philippians 4 the idea of “riches” is tied to God’s glory.
19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
In Colossians 1, the same image is used by Paul:
27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
And in 1 Timothy 6 Paul intentionally contrasts the riches of the world (which are “uncertain”) with the way that God blesses His children.
17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
God provides for us “richly…with everything to enjoy.” But what are these riches? What is this treasure buried in a field, this pearl of great price? We might say that the riches are the blessings that God bestows upon us. These would include:
But ultimately we must say that the greatest treasure of the Kingdom is the King, Jesus. Jesus is Himself the pearl of great price, the most valuable thing, the thing that we should sell everything to have!
The Kingdom of Heaven is worth the reorientation of our entire lives.
So great is the treasure of the Kingdom that it is worth the reorientation of our very lives to have it. Notice the other parallel in the parables. In both, the person in question gives all they have to attain it.
44 …Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
In the first parable, the man “sells all that he has” to buy the field in which is contained the treasure. In the second, the merchant “sold all that he had” to buy the pearl.
Why did they do this? Because the value of the treasure of the Kingdom, the value of Christ, made everything else they had seem paltry in the extreme!
We must be clear that Jesus is not saying that we can only be saved if we divest ourselves of all property. This is not a call for literally buying salvation. No, it is a statement about the radical revaluing of all that we previously held dear and a willingness on our part to give up everything to have Christ! That may very well include selling one’s property in a literal sense, or it may mean some other evidence of our acknowledgment of Christ’s value. The point remains the same: everything else should pale in comparison to knowing Christ!
Many Christians do not want to acknowledge this point, that we should be willing to give up everything for Christ. Soren Kierkegaard called this “the Christian requirement” and he lambasted the Danish church for its neglect of teaching this.
And this in my opinion is the falsification of which official Christianity is guilty: it does not frankly and unreservedly make known the Christian requirement – perhaps because it is afraid people would shudder to see at what a distance from it we are living, without being able to claim that in the remotest way our life might be called an effort in the direction of fulfilling the requirement.
In Calvin Miller’s poem, “The Discipline of a Servant,” he makes a similar point.
I’m but a cash-card saint in celluloid.
Can I afford to call this Jesus, King?
I’d like to follow him and yet avoid
Cross lugging and a naked death. I sing
Therefore to harmonize and think of all
I’ll eat when singing’s over with. Born twice,
By hundreds, then, we gather at the mall
And bless the church, or clap, or criticize.
Grace by installment – total faith – and we
Can spot a bargain when there’s one in town –
The maximum of everything that’s free –
With nothing but the minimum paid down.
It makes his love so interest-free! Not hard!
Like taking up your cross by Mastercard.
“Like taking up your cross by Mastercard” is a brilliant line. We want the benefit of the cross now and we would like to pay incrementally for it over time, if at all.
We want the treasure but we do not want to empty our hands of what we are clutching in order to have it. This is the tragedy of the consumer church, the tragedy of the materialist church, the tragedy of the comfortable church.
Perhaps no other story in the gospels better illustrates what Jesus is saying in these parables than the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19.
1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Zacchaeus was not buying his salvation here. His salvation was a matter of grace: Jesus “looked up” and spoke to him! No, this is not buying your salvation. Instead, Zacchaeus was overwhelmed by a treasure that he could not measure, a pearl of great price that made all of his earthly riches lose their luster and their hold on him. So he did what any reasonable person should do if they find themselves holding worthless trinkets in the face of true riches: he drops them to take hold of the treasure that is Christ!
Properly seen, Jesus makes all other treasures and idols and gods look like what they are: fool’s gold. Why would we not let go of our silly toys and our blasphemous idols and our moth-eaten money to take hold of Christ?
The Kingdom of God is a treasure.
The King is a treasure.
Empty your hands of whatever is filling them and take hold of this treasure by faith!
 Michael J. Wilkins, “Matthew.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Gen. Ed., Clinton E. Arnold. Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), p.87.
 Craig S. Keener. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984.
 Soren Kierkegaard. Attack Upon Christendom. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968), p.38.
 Calvin Miller, The Unfinished Soul (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman)