The Concealing field
In 13:31, 33 Jesus used the formula “The kingdom of heaven is like”. In 13:44 he uses the formula again. He continues his instruction to the crowd: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field” (KJV). The word for ‘again’ (palin) is missing from a few manuscripts, but it is contained in most. Together with palin in 13:45 and 13:47, it connects the parables that follow to the previous series (before the second pause). From this detail the reader will understand that we have in the meantime left the house again and that Jesus resumes his instruction by the lake shore.
The comparison of the kingdom of heaven with treasure is not surprising. At a time when most people were poor and completely dependent on others, finding treasure meant more than a bit of luck. It meant that a new life, previously unattainable, can now begin. If the parable had said only that the kingdom of heaven is like treasure that opens up the possibility of a new existence for the finder, it would have been unremarkable. But the novel and exceptional point is that the text places all emphasis on the fact that the treasure is hidden in a field. The outward appearance of the treasure is missing; it is hidden in the low-lying earth.
It is this humble
status of the treasure that receives all the emphasis. It appears that the finder is not the owner of the field. The story probably suggests that he is a tenant or a steward. In that case the treasure is not part of the produce of the field and belongs to the owner, not to the person who is entitled only to the usufruct (Derrett1
). So the story steers us into a different direction: the finder does not purchase the treasure, but the field! An ordinary piece of land is worth everything
, because the finder knows that it contains the secret of the treasure that will renew his life. If you can’t be bothered to buy a piece of land, you will miss the luxury of the riches it contains.
Evidently the kingdom of heaven makes a humble appearance and you have to love that presentation with your whole heart. The parable applies to Jesus today. You experience his supernatural power, but you find it in the ordinary Nazarene! If you love this humbled Son of God, you find the kingdom of heaven. As Paul later said: ‘May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world… Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God’ (Gal 6:14, 16). Joy over the eternal life that is revealed in Jesus leads to self denial and taking up your cross and following him. This bare field is worth everything because it contains the future. Faith sees it. Faith is like a finder who sees what others don’t: in his joy he goes and sells all his possessions to purchase this bit of land of which others don’t see the value.
Some exegetes believe that the focus of the story lies in the fact that the finder gives up all for the kingdom (Dupont2 draws a comparison with the rich young ruler). However, we must remember that the finder does not purchase the kingdom, but the field. It is not the immeasurable value of the kingdom that determines the acquisition of all property, but the insight of faith that an ordinary field contains this kingdom. The sola fide (with complete devotion) dominates.
Other exegetes place all emphasis on the joy of the finder. The readiness to give up all is then not a sacrifice, but a healthy self-interest (France3). That is correct, but it must be supplemented with the idea that, with joy, you are now ready, in faith, to purchase an ordinary field.
1 Derrett, J.D.M., The Treasure in the Field (in: idem, Law in the New Testament. London 1970, 1-16).
2 Dupont, J., Le point de vue de Matthieu dans le chapitre des paraboles (in : M. Didier (ed.), L’Évangile selon Matthieu. Rédaction et théologie. BETL 29. Gembloux 1972, 221-259).
3 France, R.T.,The Gospel according to Matthew (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries). Leicester 1985.
This article was translated by Albert Oosterhoff
This article was translated from Matteüs – Het evangelie voor Israel (1990).
We are very thankful to KokBoekencentrum for giving us this permission (https://www.kok.nl