Among the parables of Jesus, one of the briefest is that of the man who found a treasure in a field. In the gospel of Matthew, we are told that the man hid the treasure again and went and sold all he had so that he could buy the land. Jesus said to his listeners that the treasure represents the kingdom of heaven – but what wisdom can we learn from this image? What was the Master urging upon us?
If heaven is going to be something worth seeking for, it must not be external, since the world outside us is changeable and therefor unreliable. Rather, it should be something we discover within ourselves, for that cannot be taken away by circumstances. Therefore, the field in the parable, the unnamed piece of earth in which the man finds the treasure of heaven must be none other than his own lump of clay. What does it mean, then, that he sold all he had to buy the field? Was he not already the owner?
To own means to have control. The master of a farm may decide to sow wheat or maize or carrots, to pasture flocks, to plant orchards or to leave the land fallow so it can rest. And obviously, as he fulfils his responsibilities, the owner will reap the benefit of his labours on his land. But we are commonly so distracted by external affairs that we neglect our piece of ground. We hire ourselves out to work for others, hoping to find happiness, not recognizing that happiness is a crop that we can only grow in our own plot. To buy the field means to take responsibility and control, to assume rightful ownership, and the suggestion is that we must make sacrifices in order to secure that purchase. We could ask ourselves, therefore, where have we invested our wealth, meaning our life’s energy? What do we value in our outer world? And does whatever we have bought stand between us and the real treasure, which Jesus called the kingdom of heaven? If it does, then we should unload it on the market for whatever we can get and turn our attention inward.
One other point is the first action of the man in the parable, that he hid the treasure again. What does that mean? The power of parables is in employing the lessons of the outer life to throw light on the inner world. If we make a display of worldly wealth, it will attract much attention, mostly unwanted: some will covet it, and seek ways to relieve us of our riches, some will resent our good fortune, and will spread thorns in our path, and others will fawn and flatter, hoping to provoke a shower of generosity. To appreciate the kingdom of heaven we must cultivate a heavenly attitude – but what is that? It is not pride or self-satisfaction, which we commonly see in people of wealth, but humility and tranquillity; that will be difficult to maintain if unwanted visitors are constantly calling and offering us get-rich-quick schemes. Therefore, the wise conceal whatever they discover in their field, and whene they seek to help others, they do their best to disguise their generosity.