Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-45 – NRSV)
These two parables are unique to Matthew. They form part of the so-called “day of parables” found in Chapter 13 of Matthew’s Gospel. These parables – and the parable of the dragnet which follows – are not so much concerned with those who reject Jesus but the nature of the kingdom and what happens in the lives of those who embrace it.
Daniel Harrington writes: “Again the kingdom is compared to the whole picture that follows. The two parables (the treasure and the pearl) probably circulated as a pair. They were included in Matthew’s ‘day of parables’ on the catchword basis of the term ‘field’ in the first parable. Political conditions in Palestine and the continuing threat of invasion made the burial of one’s valuables a common way of protecting them. The implication here seems to be that the present owner had no knowledge of what was hidden in the field. The rabbis debated precisely this point—whether the buyer of the field is entitled to any treasure found in it (Lachs, 229). The parable assumes that he was.” (Daniel J Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, Liturgical Press, 2007, 207.)
like a treasure: The focus is well and truly on the kingdom as something to be cherished. The analogy is unmistakably profane – it represents material wealth. As such we can think of it as an affirmation of the incarnational way in which God works. We call it sacramentality – in the material is the spiritual, in the human is the divine, in the temporal is the eternal and so on. Typically, a human being will be thrilled to find material treasure. Follow that line of thinking: How much more thrilling is it to find the kingdom! Material treasure can have a huge impact on a poor person’s life. Again follow the thinking: How much more the impact when you discover the kingdom!
someone found: “Someone” could be anyone, it could be you! And there is a serendipity to it all – the treasure is found. When we “find” something, it implies a process over which we do not have control. It almost suggests that the treasure found us. If we knew there was a treasure there, we would simply go and get it.
in his joy: Benedict T Viviano OP writes: “This note (of joy) must not be overlooked: the kingdom is such a priceless treasure that a wise man would gladly give all to seize it; it is the chance of a lifetime. Half measures will not do for the kingdom of God.” (“Matthew” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E Brown et al, Geoffrey Chapman, 1990, 657.)
The kingdom of heaven is like what happens
In today’s Gospel – Matthew 13:44-52 – we have the last three parables of the kingdom in chapter 13 of Matthew. We have heard that the kingdom is like what happens when someone scatters seed over the ground … when a man takes a mustard seed and plants it … when a woman puts yeast in three measures of flour. Today we hear that the kingdom is like what happens when a man stumbles on treasure … when the man in search of fine pearls discovers one of great price … when a dragnet collects many different fish.
Different images and streams of thought are intertwined through these parables. One of them is: The kingdom is like what happens in the ordinary events of our days. Think about this: The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when I get dressed in the morning … when I get on the bus or train with all those other people … when I am surprised by the goodness of someone … when I am overcome with gratitude that I am alive.
The kingdom of heaven is what is happening now, here. This is good news! Something extraordinary is happening in the ordinary moments of our lives. Hints and suggestions of what no eye has yet seen nor ear heard! (See 1 Corinthians 2:9.)
So wake up! Be attentive! The more we pay attention the more we hear and see. Attention awakens us to what is actually happening – as distinct from what we only think or assume is happening. Attention is not possible at speed. It is most effective when we slow down, take our time, be a little more deliberate about those ordinary happenings of our lives.
There is the gift of the moment. There is also the gift in the moment. God’s Presence is mysterious, everywhere, all the time, loving, beautiful, true, good – in every moment. Attentive people are increasingly aware of this and it shapes their attitudes and expectations, the way they see and imagine what is possible. Inattention, on the other hand, can lead us to being imprisoned by a web of fictions that will grow when we are not looking. God’s Presence can be lost in the morass of it all.
This theme – the grace of the ordinary happenings – begins in the Gospels, is lived out in the monastic tradition and embodied in the many awakened faithful women and men down the ages. In 18th century France, a French Jesuit – Fr Jean-Pierre de Caussade SJ – wrote about it in a fine little book entitled, Abandonment to Divine Providence. He writes:
“There is not a moment in which God does not present Himself under the cover of some pain to be endured, of some consolation to be enjoyed, or of some duty to be performed. All that takes place within us, around us, or through us, contains and conceals His divine action” (page 15).