“If the treasure belongs to the finder, buying the land is unnecessary. But, if the treasure does not belong to the finder, buying the land is unjust.” — John Dominic Crossan
John Pilch points out that burying treasure for safekeeping is not an odd thing to do in antiquity. We may remember that one of the servants in Matt 25:14-28 does exactly that. Rabbinic lore contains instructions and arguments concerning the practice because of an obvious wrinkle: What if you forget where exactly you buried it and what if you die before you have a chance to tell your family exactly where to dig? Yes, it is the launch of many a pirate movie. What happens when you do die and now your treasure lies lost? Who’s is it when it is found? The landowner’s or the finder’s?
The parable seems to suggest that Jesus assumes that the man believes he has no rights as finder. He sees the treasure and takes the ruinous tack of impoverishing himself to gain rights to it by owning the land.
“So what,” you say, “he now owns the land and the treasure in it.” So, what happens when he digs it up and it becomes obvious that he who has liquidated all his assets and has spent them on real estate suddenly has new assets? Might that raise suspicion?
And what was he doing digging in fields not his own to find the treasure in the first place? Would not the former owner of the land raise objection upon discovering that the man had found treasure in the field he so recently sold? And might it not have been the treasure of his family that the former patriarch had buried and not disclosed to his heirs or, worse, the family had forgotten where it had been laid? Squabble and contention was sure to come. Would not Jesus’, and the early church’s, squabbles with the scribes and Pharisees fit the description?
The merchant’s story that follows has its own problems. If indeed, you sell everything to possess what you have searched for, what then will you sustain your self with? He sells everything he had to possess the pearl. Good! Now what?
The pearl is a parallel to the treasure before it is found. The treasure in the ground does no one, including the landowner who in the parable does not even know where it is, whether it exists, or of what value it is, any good at all. It must be exhumed and spent to be of any value. The pearl is similar. The merchant cannot eat it when hungry. He cannot find shelter in its shade in the summer, or warmth within its walls in winter. When the wealthy man in Matt 25 scolds the cautious servant, this is his criticism: Where was my treasure of value to anyone? Was the light hidden under a basket? (5:15)
Yeast makes itself known when it is “hidden” in three measures of flour and its presence creates the most basic staple of food. The humble and diminutive mustard seed makes its presence known in the form of a formidable bush when it is released into the ground and its presence is a blessing to creatures.
Though there is a text gap in our reading today — the first two parables and the last two are separated by the explanation of the parable of the weeds in the wheat — the meaning of the parables seems to be the same: The kingdom must be “spent” if it is to have any effect or value to the one who has discovered it.
“A happiness that is sought for ourselves alone can never be found: for a happiness that is diminished by being shared is not big enough to make us happy.” — the opening sentence of Thomas Merton’s “No Man Is An Island.”
The kingdom of God is immense. It will not run out. It is found by many as a pearl or as a treasure that turns out to be a “difficult gift” because our possessing it makes us somehow suspect. Yet, gifts from the Almighty are Holy gifts and deserve to be treated that way. They are pricey gifts to both, Heaven and us. Yet, like Manna in the wilderness, there is an unending quality about the kingdom. The more one lives the truths it brings and thereby gives of it the deeper the pool gets and the morning brings a new covering and new lights, and, as with Manna, holding it brings decay. (Gen 16) There is no value in day-old Manna. It is maggot ridden. There is no value in Faith that remains in the ground or is held tightly as a new bought pearl, Only if Faith is allowed to play is it valuable. Abram believed God and went to be come a nomad at heaven’s request. Faith was acted on and the moment that was done, the covenant came: Through this act there will be descendants as numerous as the stars. Question is: Will we have any descendants?