"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
Jesus said to them, "Have you understood all these things?" They said to him, "Yes, Lord." Then he said to them, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old."
- Matthew 13:44-52
In Matthew's 13th chapter, Jesus has been giving us parables to teach about the nature of his kingdom, and the gospel that he proclaims. Here, he continues with more - after having given us the parables of the Sower (Why do you speak to them in parables? and Therefore hear the parable of the sower), of the Wheat and the Tares (and its explanation here), and the Mustard Seed and the Leaven.
Today's parables continue with a different theme (as opposed to sowing and harvesting). We begin with themes of treasure and value, and it continues into an understanding of judgment and its nature.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it." My study bible notes, "The Kingdom of God is compared to an earthly treasure and a costly pearl (v. 46). The driving desire of men for wealth pictures the desire of the soul for heavenly riches. The jewel is described as hidden because it requires faith and perseverance to discover it." When we seek faith, the thing that feeds the soul, there is nothing more important, nothing to compare to this need, this hunger, that is within us for spiritual food. It is the priceless reality for which there is no substitute. We put the kingdom first. In this sense, the kingdom is illustrated through these parables in the same way that Jesus answered the scribe's question about the greatest commandments. The first greatest commandment, Jesus replied, was "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." So it is with this pearl, and this treasure. It is greater than all else, and asks of us the dedication of such value. But the parable is more than a commandment - it teaches us about our own nature and our need for this kingdom, the spiritual food that our souls seek. There is something we truly need, and when we open up to that hunger within ourselves we understand that nothing is too great to sacrifice for this fulfillment. We are creatures made for worship, and only the good food for the soul will fill that need properly and well. We will have this need for this divine relationship, but we seek to fill it with many things. The pearl of great price is that which we seek in truth, which fills truly our need.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth." My study bible notes here: "The Kingdom is compared to a fishing net which gathers the good and the wicked, an image similar to that of the parable of the tares (v. 36-43). The point is that the final judgment will finally disclose and separate the wicked from the righteous." An interesting juxtaposition here: of the parables of the great treasure and the pearl of great price, with the story of the dragnet of the kingdom that is searching for its own great treasures and will leave behind that which is not desired. We understand that the Kingdom also seeks its own, that which it is like. It seeks the treasure of the just and the righteous for itself. It will discard that which is not like itself: that which is unjust, unrighteous; in the words of the gospel translation, "the wicked."
In the search for those who will believe, this dragnet will catch all. Similar to the parable of the Wheat and the Tares, as my study bible points out, this net may catch all sorts. We are taught about the treasure and the pearl of great price to understand the value of this kingdom. We are also given the understanding that this net of the kingdom will catch all and sundry, all those who are attracted to it. But, as in the teachings of the Beatitudes, it is that which is in the heart which will bear the truth of righteousness - of that which is like itself. In the explanation of the Wheat and the Tares, these are the "sons of the kingdom." Discerning these parables, we get a sense of like which calls like: God's image is also sought by the Divine in those for whom this kingdom is truly that pearl of great price. The great dragnet is a search for those who will love God - not with the outward form alone, as hypocrites, but with the heart of love. Love seeks its own, that which is capable of such love, for whom this is the great treasure.
Elsewhere (in the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus has taught that "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (see "No one can serve two masters"). We are to understand that our treasure is what we love, and by it is defined the heart, what is truly within us, the center of our souls and our consciousness. This is a teaching on what we value, an extension of his teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. But with the introduction of the subject of judgment, we are given a taste also of the nature of our Father and the kingdom. God also seeks that which is like God, the kingdom seeks its own children. We become children by adoption, by love. Only it is not just our Father that chooses, it is we also who make our choices deep within ourselves about what we love, what we value, what we then become by participation in that love. At all times this door is open, grace is offered. We have but to choose that which we value to become the sons of the kingdom, "like God" ("Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.") I find a great consistency in these teachings, and an interesting organization in Matthew's gospel. First we have the great teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus teaches specifically and with great explanation his ideas of the kingdom, the nature of love and how we become "like God." But in these parables, there are vivid word-pictures that teach us the nature of all of this working, and how it works in us. In today's reading, we are given this picture of the great desire for the "one thing necessary." My study bible has it right when it points out that "the driving desire of men for wealth pictures the desire of the soul for heavenly riches." And it also fits with the concept of judgment, and that which is cast into the furnace. As before, we explore the concept of the holy fire. I believe it is that which burns away that which we need to cast off within ourselves, which we are better off without, as in Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: see If your right eye causes you to sin. Nothing is too great a sacrifice for this treasure. What we love becomes a part of us, we become a part of it. Everything else that does not participate in the righteousness of the kingdom we are better off without; we practice repentance by discarding that which does not make us "like God" - "as our Father in heaven is perfect." Which do you choose? What do you love? Where is your treasure and your pearl of great price?
Jesus said to them, "Have you understood all these things?" They said to him, "Yes, Lord." Then he said to them, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old." My study bible notes on this passage that Jesus did not reject the Old Testament, but called it treasure. What we understand here is the reality of the present gospel, that does not reject the old but transforms it through new value and the new perspective that is gained therein. What will you treasure, therefore? How does it color where you have been and what you have known? Going back once again to the Sermon on the Mount, Christ's words illuminate what he told his disciples at that time, that he came not to destroy but to fulfill. How do these parables help you to fill out what you know, and to teach about what is written on the heart?