Bible Study | June 27, 2023

Finding and gathering

Man sitting in front of yoked oxen looking at gold in a pot
JESUS MAFA. The Hidden Treasure, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved June 27, 2023]. Original source: (contact page:

Matthew 13:44-52

The theme of the mini-parable and the one that follows in Matthew 13:44-45 is the surpassing value of the kingdom of heaven. In both cases, the protagonists find something so valuable that they are gladly willing to sacrifice everything to obtain it and are overjoyed to do so.

A treasure hidden in a field

Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to “a treasure hidden in a field.” A number of thematic elements in this parable bear examination.

The most obvious is that the man is not in search of treasure. The treasure, in a sense, finds him. We may not be seeking after God, but God is seeking after us. But having been found, the treasure requires immediate action, or it may be lost to him (Isaiah 55:6-7, 2 Corinthians 6:2).

The second aspect is that the man conceals the discovery and purchases the property without revealing to the owner what he has found. However, at its core, like the parable of the unjust steward, the story is not about the lack of ethics or character deficiency of the man, but his recognition of the tremendous value of what he has found.

In his joy, he sells all he has to obtain a greater wealth.

Extraordinary events in real life

When Jesus uses the image of hidden treasure, he describes a quite ordinary practice in the ancient world. Earthenware pots and jars were often used as containers to store and conceal items of value. During times of disorder, it was not unusual to bury valuables in such jars, perhaps under the earthen floor, within a wall, in a farm field, or urban lot, and then retrieve the valuables when the threat ended. Extra-biblical sources such as Josephus describe the efforts of Jewish citizens to store their gold and silver underground during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

In Jeremiah 32:14-15, the prophet is instructed to store the deeds of his recently redeemed property in earthenware containers prior to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. This is a prophetic gesture demonstrating that the people of Judah would return from exile and that property would again be bought and sold in Jerusalem. The value is in the contents, not in the container.

Another example of a hidden treasure is found in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:18-25 where the slothful servant hides the talent he has been entrusted with. The servant is unwilling to use what he has been given and to take the risks necessary for an appreciable gain.

The apostle Paul alludes to this practice in 2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” This text contrasts the worth of the contents with the clay jar’s lack of worth. Paul stresses the tremendous worth of the gospel message shared with the world by the followers of Christ. What is important here is the power of God working in and through the weakness of human agency.

Even today, archaeologists and ordinary citizens find ancient treasures buried in Palestine. In 2017 a group of impoverished Gaza fishermen found a hoard of ancient Greek coins minted over two millennia ago, including dozens of silver decadrachm coins from the time of Alexander the Great, only 12 of which were previously known to collectors. Unfortunately, the finders sold them for a sum far below their true value to dealers who recognized their true worth.

A more recent discovery, in 2022, was a hoard of 44 Byzantine gold coins minted from 602 to 641 A.D. and other valuables hidden in an excavated wall in Banias. These apparently were hidden at the time of the Muslim conquest of Palestine and never retrieved.

Also in 2022, a Palestinian farmer planting an olive tree on his land uncovered a particularly ornate, well-preserved Byzantine mosaic.

One pearl of great value

Pearls were highly valued in biblical times and were seen as a symbol of wisdom. The pearls of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf were considered so valuable that they were used to describe something priceless (Job 28:18). They were also easily concealed, a positive value in a context where robbery and theft were commonplace.

Though this parable is similar to and paired with the parable of the treasure hidden in a field that precedes it, it differs in some significant respects. In this parable, the merchant presumably is a person of substance, whereas the one who buys the field is not. Here the merchant is in search of fine pearls, whereas the other man is not looking at all. The quest of the merchant is intentional, and he knows what he is looking for. He is a searcher and a seeker (Matthew 7:7-8). His search is rewarded and upon finding the one pearl of great value, he sold all and bought it.

The quotation from Isaiah 64:4 used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9 illustrates the awesome wonder of finding that which is beyond all earthly value: “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.'”

Like a net that was thrown into the sea

Here Jesus says that “the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind” (v. 47). In some regard, this parable has similarity to John 21:11. The disciples, who have fished all night and caught nothing, once more drop their nets. The catch is so heavy that the net can barely be handled. Within are 153 fish. Jerome, the priest and theologian of the 4th and 5th centuries, theorized that the 153 fishes caught by the disciples represented all the species of fish and stated its meaning is that there is enough room within the church for all types of people.

This parable picks up a major theme from the parable of the weeds among the wheat (13:24-30). While many claim to belong in the kingdom of heaven, God knows those who belong and is fully able to distinguish between those who are and are not fit (Matthew 25:32-33). In common with the parable of the weeds, the fate of those who do not follow God is this place of pain, darkness, and sorrow, apparently separated from God forever (13:49).

Treasures old and new

Jesus asks the disciples whether they understand. They say yes. He might well ask us the same question, “Do you understand?” This exchange is one of the few positive portrayals of scribes in the Gospels (v. 52). It is quite a contrast to Matthew 23, where Jesus denounces the scribes and the Pharisees in seven “woe unto you” statements.

In this case, “every scribe” has occasion to experience God’s kingdom as a disciple and to bring his or her training to bear for the sake of the kingdom. An example would be the apostle Paul (Acts 9:20-22) who, after his conversion, used his considerable powers to proclaim the gospel and prosper the kingdom.

Jesus described such people as being “like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (v. 52). First-century cultures in the Mediterranean area valued ancient things and values that stood the test of time. Things that were new were suspect. Recognizing new items as treasures would involve sensitivity, preparation, and readiness to take a risk to one’s standing in the community.

What was new was the coming of the kingdom in the person of Jesus! What was old was tradition and wisdom of the law whose authority Jesus upholds and fulfills, and the prophets who proclaimed his coming.

David Shumate is Annual Conference secretary for the Church of the Brethren. An ordained minister, he served almost 30 years as executive minister in Virlina District.