Wednesday, October 29, 2014
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.
Somehow it seems that whenever people comment on this verse, they’re always thinking money and property. I know that Christ is couching this parable in those terms, but remember, this is a parable, and parables exist so that their application can range over a wide continuum of experiences.
Sometimes people take other stories of Jesus that are not parables and try to understand them as if they were, because if they were true and literal, the outcome is too terrifying. Such is the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. The gospel does not call this a parable, and the Church has understood this to be a literal description (as far as mortal minds can apprehend it) of the state after physical death.
But this story is a parable, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” and so the application of it is wide open. Though in the Middle Ages the Western Church in particular read into this the ‘call’ to monasticism, I don’t believe the Eastern Church then or now reads it predominantly this way. The kingdom of heaven cannot be identified with any earthly, even churchly, institution such as monasticism, or even mission.
Instead, the kingdom of heaven is itself nothing more or less than the life of salvation, the belief in the claims of Jesus—“I am the Resurrection and the Life… Do you believe this?” (John, chapter 11). To one who knows the possibility and offer of eternal life through faith in Christ, this is the ultimate concern, the chance that must not be missed. Whatever he owns, he will dispense with to obtain it.
But it does seem like a business transaction. He goes and sells all he has, so that he can buy the field in which the treasure is buried. He could go by night when everyone is sleeping or on the Sabbath when everyone is in synagogue, dig up the treasure, pack it away carefully on his person, maybe disguised as a sack of turnips, and walk off with it. But there’s probably too much there, so he has to do it right.
He sells his other property, because he can see it’s not much, so he can buy the field, since the treasure buried there is so far beyond his meager possessions, that maybe he can trick the owner of the field to sell it to him. Doesn’t the owner of the field know about the treasure? Guess not. But this is a parable. There’s no amount of money that can buy the treasure in the field—salvation—only blood can, and as we know, it’s the Blood of the Lamb without spot, slain before the foundation of the world.
So where does that leave us? I think one of the best applications of this parable is to realize that our most valuable possessions: our personal freedom, our private opinions, our religious or sexual preferences (yes, sometimes they’re related), our social status, are really quite useless in the end, either to satisfy us or to even compare to the chance of obtaining the only treasure worth having—eternal life—and that this life is none other than life with God, in other words, salvation.
I still drive a car, live in a comfortable home, have friends and hobbies, and go to church. But what changed was, yes, I don’t take refuge in those things anymore if I ever did. And yes, if I am deprived of all of that and more, as Job was, I will stand my ground in the field I bought, because the treasure I found there is inexhaustible and incomparably great.
at 2:31 PM