July/August 2011 - Vol. 51

The Treasure and the Pearl

Joyfully Discovering the Kingdom
By Jeanne Kun

[Jesus said to his disciples:] “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 13:44-46
Jesus had just dismissed the crowds after telling them the parable of the weeds and the wheat. The disciples followed him into a house, asking for an explanation. He provided one (Matthew 13:36-43)  – and then promptly told them several more parables about the kingdom of God, including this pair about the hidden treasure and the pearl. Did the disciples see their own experiences mirrored in these twin parables?

The man who discovered the buried treasure sold everything he possessed – perhaps a donkey, his wife’s weaving loom, his family’s house and furniture – to acquire it. 

The merchant, too, sold all he had to buy the exquisite pearl that far surpassed any he had ever seen before. 

Each man’s response to his discovery was the same: Recognizing his find to be of inestimable worth, he sacrificed whatever was necessary to make it his own. The purchasers didn’t haggle over price. Nor did they bemoan what their acquisitions would cost them. On the contrary, they made their transactions joyfully, because what both men stood to gain was so tremendous that it made any monetary cost, any sacrifice, any leap of faith insignificant in comparison.

Perhaps like the man who unexpectedly stumbled on the fortune hidden in the ground, the disciples hadn’t been actively looking for the Messiah. Or they may have been more like the merchant, seeking something of great intrinsic worth that would enrich their lives. 

No matter whether they had come upon their treasure inadvertently or had found it after a long search, the disciples had responded like the men in the parable.

The disciples had given up everything that previously defined their lives – their livelihoods, their homes, and their families – to follow an itinerant rabbi who they believed to be the long-awaited Messiah (Mark 1:16-20). 

Following Jesus required total surrender and commitment (Matthew 16:24-26; Luke 9:23, 14:26-33). It also required an unwavering faith that the kingdom Jesus was inaugurating was truly the “pearl of great price.” Through this pair of parables, Jesus reassured them that, yes, what they had given up could not even begin to compare with what he would give them in return. 

“Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30).

The message of these brief parables offers encouragement to us as well. It’s not easy to make a radical investment of ourselves in Christ. It requires an act of faith to live singleheartedly for him. We may find ourselves at different stages in our journey – perhaps reluctant to sacrifice certain things in our lives, perhaps giving up something for a time only to take it back. 

But there is literally everything to gain by persevering. And as we come to joyfully recognize “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:8), we become more like the men in the parables – rushing off to “sell” all we have for the great treasure of Jesus reigning in our lives.

In the Spotlight

Wisdom from the Church Fathers

By the pearl of price is to be understood the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom, which, he that has found it, sells all and buys. For he that, as far as is permitted, has had perfect knowledge of the sweetness of the heavenly life, readily leaves all things that he has loved on earth; all that once pleased him among earthly possessions now appears to have lost its beauty, for the splendor of that precious pearl is alone seen in his mind.

– St. Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Gospels

 Christ is the treasure which was hid in the field, that is, in this world (for “the field is the world”); but the treasure hid in the Scriptures is Christ, since he was pointed out by means of types and parables. . . . It [the Old Testament law and prophecies] is a treasure, hid indeed in a field, but brought to light by the cross of Christ.
– St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies

 A man seeking goodly pearls has found one pearl of great price; that is, he who is seeking good men with whom he may live profitably, finds one alone, Christ Jesus, without sin.
– St. Augustine, Quaest. in Matt.

Excerpted from Treasures Uncovered: The Parables of Jesus, by Jeanne Kun (The Word Among Us Press, © 2005).  Used with permission. This book can be ordered online.

Jeanne Kun is President of Bethany Association and a senior woman leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. 
The pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in a field were a reminder of the vastness of what is at stake. Compared with that, all other successes are meaningless; men will make the kingdom their own only if they are willing to sacrifice everything else for it.
– Frank Sheed,To Know Christ Jesus

In the Spotlight

Pearls Most Precious

With their beautiful luster and glowing iridescence, pearls were considered to have far greater value than gold in the ancient world. A fragment of the oldest known pearl jewelry was found in the sarcophagus of a Persian princess who died in 520 B.C. Egyptians prized pearls so much that they, too, were buried with them. In the first century B.C., Julius Caesar decreed that only rulers of the Roman Empire could wear pearls, the ultimate symbol of wealth and social stature. Cleopatra reportedly dropped a pearl into a glass of wine and then drank it, simply to win a wager with Mark Antony that she could consume the wealth of an entire nation in a single meal. In A.D. 77, Pliny the Elder observed in his Natural History that pearls were “the richest merchandise of all, and the most sovereign commodity throughout the whole world.”

Pearls are formed in the depths of the sea by oysters, mussels, and mollusks. Merchants in Jesus’ day went to the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean in search of pearls of the highest quality. Unios, the Latin word used to describe a large, fine pearl, literally means “unique” or “singular,” since no two of these natural wonders are exactly alike.

Pondering the Word

1. What might it have cost the two men – besides money – to possess what they had discovered? What risks might have been involved in making their purchases?

2. Why do you think Jesus used hidden treasure and a pearl to describe the kingdom of heaven? What clues do these parables provide about the nature of God’s kingdom?

3. Jesus notes that the man in the field experienced joy even as he prepared to sell all of his possessions to buy the plot of land. How does this further emphasize Jesus’ point about the value of the kingdom of heaven? About the value of worldly things?

4. Jesus told these parables to his disciples in private, not to the crowds in general (Matthew 13:36). What does this suggest to you? What light does this shed on the meaning and cost of discipleship?

5. Matthew’s gospel places the parables about the treasure and the pearl between Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds among the wheat and a similar parable about a net thrown into the sea, from which the good fish are separated from the bad. Why do you think Matthew put the parables in that order? 


1. Was your own “discovery” of Christ seemingly accidental and unexpected or the result of much searching on your part? How did you respond to this discovery?

2. What has your decision to follow Christ cost you? What part of the “purchase price” to obtain the treasure did you find most difficult to pay? Are you withholding any part of the price? If so, why?

3. Which aspect of the parable speaks to you most personally right now? The joy of discovery? The value of the kingdom? The total commitment of self to God? Why?

4. In what ways have you shared the treasure you’ve found in Christ with others? In what ways could you share that treasure even more?

5. How does the way you use your resources – your talents, time, money – reflect the value you place on God’s kingdom? 


1. Making Jesus and the kingdom of heaven our greatest treasure affects the other priorities and goals in our lives. Consider what adjustments you might need to make to better reflect the value you place on Jesus and building his kingdom.

2. Reflect on the following passages to enhance your understanding of the parables you have just studied:

The price of wisdom is above pearls. (Job 28:18)

 If you seek [wisdom] like silver,
  and search for it as for hidden treasures – then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:4-5)

Jesus said to [the rich young man], “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22)

[Jesus] said to his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:32-34)

Yet whatever gain I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him. (Philippians 3:7-9)


This week share about the treasure you’ve found in Christ and the joy of this discovery with at least one person with whom you have never discussed your faith.

In the Spotlight

Contemporary Voices

The traditional interpretation sees the farmer and the merchant as disciples or would-be disciples. But it is possible that both are images of God himself, who has given what is most precious to him, his own Son (see Matthew 21:37), to purchase (= redeem) his people. Perhaps it is only when the human person realizes the extent of God’s extravagance that he can respond with similar totality.

– George Montague, SM, Companion God:
A Cross-Cultural Commentary
on the Gospel of Matthew

 The gospel parables of the treasure and the pearl of great price, for which one sells all one’s possessions, are eloquent and effective images of the radical and unconditional nature of the decision demanded by the kingdom of God. The radical nature of the decision to follow Jesus is admirably expressed in his own words: “Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35).
– Pope John Paul II, The Splendor of Trutth
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