June / July 2016 - Vol. 86

treasure in clay jar
Treasure Hidden.
by Joanie Nath

It is frequently the case that expansive thoughts, particularly in Scripture, are communicated with few words. One such example is the very short parable recorded in Matthew 13: 44.
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and in his joy, went and sold everything he had and bought that field.
At first glance, there seems to be nothing remarkable about this parable. It is simple and straightforward. But upon closer examination, wisdom begins to be revealed as we uncover its hidden meaning. To unpack it we need to explore the field, the kingdom of heaven, and the treasure. And in so doing we will gain a rich (pun intended) understanding as it relates to our own lives.

The field
The parable does not define what sort of field this is so we must assume that it’s probably like other fields that are described in the Scriptures, four of which we will look at here.   

Preceding the hidden treasure parable in Matthew we find the description of the first field. It is the familiar story of a man who has sown good seed in his field only to have his enemy come during the night and sow weeds in among his wheat. Jesus explains to his disciples that the field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom and the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and they are both growing together in this field. That was not the original intention of the landowner, but that is now his reality; wheat and weeds growing together until the harvest.

You will notice in this story that the seeds have been sown in the field which means they have been purposely planted there by the landowner with the expectation that they will grow and produce a harvest. They didn’t end up in the field through happenstance. Neither have they managed to separate themselves from the weeds. They are not occupying one side of the field and the weeds the other. No, they have been planted, for better or worse, in the same field, intermixed, side-by-side, together with the weeds.  And for now, that’s the way the owner of the field wants it to stay.  So our first field is where the sons of the kingdom have been purposely planted and are growing intermixed with the weeds who are the sons of the evil one.

In John 4 Jesus says, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest!” And in Luke and Matthew he says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”  In these verses Jesus is using the metaphor of the harvest to suggest that there are great numbers of people in the world who need to hear the Gospel, and we, as willing laborers, should go out to gather them in by speaking to them about Jesus and sharing his salvation message with them. The second field is where the harvest is.

The third field is where the sheep live and graze. Throughout the Scriptures we have many examples of shepherds caring for their sheep in the fields. Perhaps the most familiar passage in the Old Testament is Psalm 23 where the shepherd and sheep metaphor is used to describe the Lord’s care for his people and our relationship to him as our personal shepherd and guardian.

Jesus uses this same metaphor frequently in the Gospels. Some of the sheep are familiar with his voice, but there are others who are lost and who need to be brought back to the fold.

And before his ascension into heaven Jesus exhorts Peter to feed and care for the sheep that are now under his care.  As followers of Jesus we are asked to care for one another as well.

The field is also where battles are fought. We see the battlefield most frequently described in the Old Testament in stories such as David and Goliath.

Although our approaches to warfare have changed greatly over the centuries, for thousands of years men fought battles by lining up on opposite sides of the battlefield and engaging in hand-to-hand combat.    

We see this same kind of battle imagery when we read Paul’s description of the armor of God in Ephesians 6. He tells us to take up the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the sword of the Spirit, etc. that we might be armed, ready for battle and able to stand our ground in the face of the enemy. The imagery is not that of a massive invasion but of individual soldiers withstanding assault, protecting their ground, defending their territory, preserving their own lives, the lives of others, and securing the field on which the battle is taking place.

There is a fifth kind of field that is noteworthy. Pope Francis recently described the church as a field hospital in the world.  Although not a biblical image, it is a valid one because it accurately puts forth the image of the church as a healer in a sick and wounded world. As the church, we take care of those who are hurting, the broken and bleeding and those who are being injured in the battles that are happening all around them.  It is not only our peers that we care for in this field hospital, but our own family members, our children, and grandchildren. It can be a sobering thought to consider that our children and grandchildren are often the victims of the warfare in which we are engaged. They are the ones who are particularly vulnerable; those who most easily get picked off by the sniper’s bullets.

Alone, each of these fields can seem overwhelming enough. But what would it look like if what is taking place on each of these fields individually were happening simultaneously on the same field? Chaos and turmoil, disorder and confusion are just a few words that easily come to mind. It would seem as if life on the field was completely out of control!

What is the Lord saying to us?
What might the Lord be trying to communicate to us through the descriptions of these fields? Whether we consider each field individually or assume that all of this activity is happening on the same field concurrently we can still draw some reasonable conclusions.

First, he is saying that there is a great harvest of souls living here. He has planted us, his children, in this field to take the Gospel to them. We will encounter those who don’t want anything to do with the Gospel. Some of them actually mean to oppose or do us harm. But there are sheep here as well. We are expected to look after the ones who know and belong to the Shepherd and to encourage those who are lost to come back to the fold. We will be called to fight battles, not only to maintain possession of the field, but also to fight for those who are vulnerable to an enemy who seeks to destroy them. There will be some who will be injured, even lost in the battle. We will be expected to comfort and care for the wounded and to help them heal from their battle scars.

There is a great deal happening on this field and to care for it seems a daunting task; the very thought of it can seem overwhelming. One minute we may be engaged in a skirmish on one part of the field, the next we’re bandaging the wounded on another. Tomorrow, we may have opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to a lost sheep or be looking for ways to live peaceably with the weeds we have for neighbors or family members!

It is tempting to want to run from the field to find respite in the shade of the trees, escape the battles, shirk our responsibility for the sheep, let someone else worry about the harvest and leave the hurting and wounded to the care of those who seem to be more suited to such tasks. But God has left this field in our hands and he expects us to accomplish all that he planted us here to do. This is his field and we have been given a great responsibility in tending to it.

“Buying into” the field
The field in this parable is not just any field – there is something different about it. There is a treasure here that has been left, presumably by the owner, which is of such great value that like the man in the parable, we would do well to sell everything we have in order to gain it. Rephrased a different way, we should want the treasure in this field so badly that we will invest everything to “buy into” the field. We hear this contemporary expression often. Someone might say to a young person, “You need to “buy into” your education if you’re going to get into an Ivy League school.” But what does that mean? It means you have to be willing to invest yourself, give your best effort, dedicate yourself wholeheartedly, put aside lesser things, have a singular focus and “buy into” your education if getting into a particular school is the goal. The same is true for this treasure in Jesus’ parable. We will have to “buy into” the field in order to acquire it.

Hidden in plain sight
Often in the Gospels, Jesus tells parables like this one to help people understand the kingdom of heaven by comparing it with something they are familiar with; something from their everyday lives to which they can relate. In this parable Jesus is describing something more than a material treasure of great value. He is describing the great riches of the kingdom of heaven by comparing it with very valuable treasure trove, a treasure that has been kept hidden in a field for some time. Hiding treasure in a field was something that was quite common in that day. Many people typically protected their treasure by either burying it in the ground or by hiding it in clay jars used for storing supplies, simple jars made of earth that had nothing special or fancy to mark them. Some would even leave these jars in plain sight and no one suspected there was anything valuable hidden in them. This parable doesn’t actually tell us if the treasure was buried in the ground or not. It just says it was “hidden”.  It might be buried and perhaps a person coming into the field might have to dig to find it. But it is also possible that the treasure is hidden in a bunch of clay jars that have been left in this field. Water, oil, wine and food were often stored in clay jars or containers and left for the use of those on the field e.g. shepherds, workers in the field and soldiers.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. -
2 Corinthians 4:7

In this Scripture passage Paul the Apostle is talking about the treasure that is the Gospel
the all-surpassing power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of our salvation, the power of God that transforms us from within. And it is hidden in simple, clay jars, jars left out in plain sight. It is hidden within us so that when people look at our lives, in all the living, battling, serving and activity that goes on daily on this field where we live there will be no doubt that something beyond our ordinary strength or power is happening here. In fact, it is something beyond normal human strength and abilities.  In ourselves we are quite unremarkable – we are fragile, vulnerable, and weak in many ways. But through the death and resurrection of Christ we have been given new power and new life which comes from God. We carry in us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the very life of Christ in these mortal, frail clay jars as we live our lives on this field so that his life might be revealed in and through us. The Lord wants this new life to shine through us so that everyone around us – even the wounded on the field – may recognize Christ’s presence and powerthus giving glory to God!

The treasure is not something tangible or of the material world. It is the rule and reign of God in our midst. It is having the possession of God within us, living out the life God intended for us from the beginning here on earth through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is experiencing a foretaste of the life we will eventually live in heaven right here, right now. It is our life together in covenant community, in the Body of Christ, in the church, caring for our brothers and sisters, searching for the lost, and fighting the battles we encounter as we live next door to the weeds that are in the field with us. It is found as we participate in serving each other, loving those difficult neighbors, being disciples on mission, engaging in the battles for the hearts and minds of our children, caring for the hurting and the lost, bringing in the harvest as we live the daily challenge that is life on the field. That’s the treasure! That’s the kingdom of heaven! It is the life of Jesus Christ who lives in each one of us being shared with one another. The kingdom of heaven is among you!

This life we live on the field is flawed, imperfect, and it can sometimes feel chaotic. There are battles and losses, hardships, and struggles. But there is great joy here as well. There is treasure here, left to us by our Father who wants us to discover it for ourselves. It is a mystery, this treasure. And it is hiding in our everyday life as we experience it on this field! Recently, I read this definition of a mystery:  It is something hidden which has been revealed, something unapproachable which invites entry and something unknowable which offers true understanding. And isn’t that what we are seeing here? How we find treasure on this field is a mystery which the Lord in his goodness is revealing to us as we live our lives here.

Some defining characteristics of treasure 

  1. Treasure is any person or thing that is considered valuable and of significant worth. (Webster’s Dictionary)
  2. Treasure grows in its value. Often, the older it is the more value it has.
  3. Treasure is almost always out of plain sight…it requires a person to go in search of it, to look for it, to have a certain determination in finding it.
  4. Treasure often isn’t something that has been amassed by the person who has found it; it was put there by someone else and left for his discovery!
  5. It is often referred to as hidden, buried or sunken. It generally is not obvious where the treasure is. In this case, the treasure is “hidden” in the field, sometimes not seen or it is out of view.
The word “hidden” also means that it may be unrecognizable by some who walk through the field. Like a rare treasure sold for far less than its true value, e.g. a rare painting or a priceless antiquity sold for pennies at a yard sale. In this context, a treasure could be hiding in plain sight. There are those who will walk upon the soil of this field who will be blind to the treasure hidden there. It can be undervalued or unappreciated. “One’s man’s trash is another man’s treasure!” Only the one who has eyes to see will recognize its true value.

Some others might wonder what is so special about it and question why someone would be as eager as the man in the parable to sell everything he has in order to buy the field. Others may suspect there is something of value in this field but not want to invest the time to search for it or do what is required to take possession of the field;  it will appear to require too much effort.

Finding treasure brings freedom
Although falling into an inheritance or finding a lost treasure can and often does alleviate financial concerns for one’s life, as Christians we are more keenly aware of the value of spiritual treasure. Its benefits far exceed any comfort an earthly treasure could ever afford; it isn’t limited to just the temporal, but more importantly it provides for our eternal well-being.

The treasure our Father has left for us is of such great value that we can live securely on this field. Our lives are enriched today because we’ve found this treasure. Our future and our children’s future is full of hope and promise because we have been provided for. We don’t have to wonder or be afraid of what the future will bring because we have all we need. And because we have been blessed with such abundance we have the privilege and the duty to help others who wander onto this field.  We can live in peace and freedom as we care for the sheep, bring in the harvest, engage the mission, fight the battles and bind up the wounds of the injured with confidence because our Father has provided for all our needs. And every day there is more to discover, more to acknowledge, more to appreciate and be grateful for, and more that we should be willing to give everything to possess! 

When a man found it, he hid it again…
We don’t know exactly why the man in the story hides the treasure again, but there are several reasonable possibilities we can consider.

First, the field does not belong to him. It belongs to the owner. Therefore, the treasure also belongs to the owner. To take the treasure without buying the field would be to attempt to steal the treasure. He knows he can’t do that. The treasure and the field go together.

Perhaps the treasure is too great for him to manage or move alone. Maybe it can’t be removed because it is simply too big!

He hides it again so he will not forget where to find it and so that it will neither be lost nor stolen from him.

He knows in his heart that this is a rare find and does not want to lose sight of it. He knows where it is and he seems to know intuitively what he must do to attain it. As long as the treasure stays with the field he will know where it is.

And then in his joy, went and sold everything he had and bought that field
In recognizing the value of the treasure in this field this wise man would gladly give all for the chance to seize it; it is the chance of a lifetime and well worth the purchase price. Even though it costs him everything he has there is no reservation or hesitation about what he is paying in order to gain the treasure. He cannot have the treasure unless he buys the field and he seems to understand that. He doesn’t bargain with himself or the landowner about the purchase price. He isn’t bartering down the price or requesting to buy only the portion of the field that he likes… “I’d like to buy the part where the sheep are, but I’m not interested in the field hospital or the battlefield. I don’t think I want to invest there.” He is filled with joy at the thought of taking ownership of the whole field. Half measures will not do for the kingdom of God. This man seems to know that:
  • He cannot be a “renter” on the field and get the treasure.
  • He cannot “visit” the field and get the treasure.
  • He cannot live as a squatter (for free) on the field and get the treasure.
  • He cannot just “take” the treasure; it goes with the field and remains with the field
  • He cannot be a bystander simply observing what is happening on the field and get the treasure. 
  • He must participate in all that is happening on the field. He must decide to “buy into” the field or live apart from the treasure it contains.
  • He knows that this is an all or nothing proposition and he is “all in”.
Jesus himself and the new way of life he gives us through the Holy Spirit is the treasure that awaits us in this field. But in order to gain him, in order to enjoy the fullness of the blessings he has for us we need to buy the field, with all that that means, giving everything, all that we have, and all that we are.  If we recognize the value of the treasure that awaits us in this field, we too will have great joy at the prospect of taking ownership if it. He wants us to build and to plant, to grow and to produce a harvest on this field, to fight to retain possession of it and to care for those who are living life here with us. He wants us to willingly “buy into” the field, to be “all in”. It will cost us everything, but the reward is a life filled with treasure beyond compare! 

Joanie Nath
Joanie Nath has been married for 39 years and is the mother of three grown children. She has been a member of the People of God Community in Pittsburgh for 33 years where she serves as a Senior Woman Leader and retreat speaker. She also serves in the Sword of the Spirit North American Region as a Regional Senior Woman Leader. She resides in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, USA.
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