PROPER12 Treasures And Trash
Ordinary Time 17
6. Treasures And Trash
"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field,
which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells
all that he has and buys that field.
45"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search
of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went
and sold all that he had and bought it.
47"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was
thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was
full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into
baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the
age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the
righteous, 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there
will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes."
52And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been
trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a
household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is
The parables in Matthew 13:44-52 continue the series of
eight that are found in this chapter. The previous parables were
told in public to a large crowd (see Matthew 13:1-3). Now Jesus
moves into a house where the disciples came to him (Matthew
13:36). He first explains the parable about the weeds among the
wheat. He then proceeds to tell the three parables in Matthew
13:44-52. Two of the parables, the treasure hidden in the field
and the pearl of great value, are twins. The third parable about
the net and
fishes is a twin to the earlier parable about the weeds and the
wheat. This follows a familiar organizing principle in Matthew
of ABBA. Again all three parables are intended to describe the
nature and value of the kingdom of heaven. They all begin with
the same phrase, "the kingdom of heaven is like ..." The section
ends with a summary statement addressed to the disciples who are
compared to scribes.
The parables are for the tenth Sunday following Pentecost
and conclude a series of three Sundays dealing with the parables
of the kingdom from Matthew 13.
Context of the Lectionary
The First Lesson. (Genesis 29:15-28) The story of Jacob
continues from last week. He is now working for Laban. The
trickster who tricked his brother out of his inheritance is in
turn tricked into marrying Leah instead of Rachel. He had to
work another seven years before he finally was granted Rachel as
The Second Lesson. (Romans 8:26-39) The first half of this
reading gives assurance of support by the Spirit. The second
half gives further assurance that all things work together for
good for those who are called by God. It is one of the key
passages that raises the difficult issue of predestination. It
ends with the assertion that nothing in all the world can
separate the faithful from the love of God.
Gospel. (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52) The reading brings to a
conclusion the three-week series of parables followed from
Psalm. (Psalm 105:1-11, 45b) The Psalm connects the
seeking of the second parable in today's gospel reading about the
pearl of great value. It also relates back to the God of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with the promise of the holy land given
to Moses in the first lesson for today. It ends with an
exclamation of praise to the Lord.
Context of Related Scripture
Leviticus 11:9-12 Ä Description of clean and unclean fish.
Job 19:6 Ä Closed into a net by God.
Job 28:18 Ä "The price of wisdom is above pearls."
Psalm 66:11 Ä Use of the image of the net into which we are
Ecclesiastes 9:12 Ä Image of fish caught into a cruel net
compared with mortals snared by calamity.
Habakkuk 1:15-17 Ä An opposing view of the net as used by
Matthew 6:19-21 Ä (Luke 12:33-34) Ä Treasures on earth or
Matthew 6:33 Ä Seeking first the kingdom.
Matthew 7:6 Ä Throwing pearls before swine.
Matthew 25:14-30 Ä Note that one of the servants buried a
talent in the earth for safe keeping.
Revelation 22:21 Ä Each of the 12 gates are made from a
The first two parables are more similes than parables. They
do not provide many details. Nothing is said about the amount of
the treasure in the first instance. It is assumed that the
treasure is of considerable size. In the second parable nothing
is said about why the person would want to possess the pearl. Was
the merchant wanting to sell it again and gain a great profit?
Or did he want it as a source of status and pride of possession?
These kinds of questions were not of concern in telling the
story. The main point of each is the good fortune that each had
in discovering the treasure and the price they were willing to
pay to possess them.
Some contrasts can be noted between the first two parables.
In the treasure hidden in the field, the person who found the
treasure was probably poor. He had to sell all that he had to
purchase the field. The person in the parable of the costly
pearl apparently was of some wealth since he could afford to
travel to find the pearl.
A second contrast is between the accidental finding of the
treasure in the field as opposed to the merchant who went
searching for the beautiful pearl. A third contrast is between
the presumed multiple nature of the treasure in a box as opposed
to the unitary nature of the pearl.
The third parable would particularly speak to the disciples
who were fishermen. They no doubt had often sat on the shore of
Galilee and sorted out their catch of fish. They would cast
aside the fish which were considered unclean by the Levitical
law. This parable is very similar to the parable of the weeds in
the wheat in that the good and the bad were mixed together, the
weeds in the field of wheat and the good and bad fish in the sea.
They both have the element of harvest before the good and the bad
were separated. They both have as their main point the implied
warning of the fate of the bad as opposed to the fate of the
The final verses of the section offer a summary statement of
the entire chapter. Matthew earlier had contrasted what was said
from the old tradition with what Jesus said as fulfillment of the
intention but which became a new statement of the principles. It
is not entirely clear exactly what the reference to the old and
the new is. The most general understanding would be the old as
the Law and the new as the Gospel. It could also be the old as
representing the human kingdom of Israel which was bound by
geography and ethnicity while the new is the spiritual kingdom
that is universal in scope and no longer bound by the
particularity of time and place.
Precis of the Parables
The emphasis of the twin parables is on the joy at the good
fortune of those who find the kingdom. All other treasures that
persons find of value are to be sacrificed to obtain the much
value of the kingdom. The third parable underscores the same
point as the previous parable of the weeds in the wheat. At the
end of history a sorting takes place between good and evil. Only
the good eventually survives and endures. The final verse
suggests that the disciples retain the values which they had
received from Judaism. They are also to understand the new
interpretations and teachings which came from Jesus.
Thesis: The incomparable worth of the kingdom of heaven.
Theme: The kingdom is worth any cost.
Key Words in the Parables
1. "Heaven." (v. 44) Matthew uses the term the kingdom of
heaven where Luke speaks of the kingdom of God. The difference
reflects the cultural background of the two writers. Matthew
comes from a Hebrew background. He would be reluctant to use the
name of God. In the Old Testament, it was the name written but
not pronounced. The term heaven is a euphemism to avoid the
danger of profaning the name of God. Luke had a gentile
background. He would not have the same hesitation as Matthew.
2. "Hidden in a field." (v. 44) In biblical times no one
had banks which were a secure place to deposit wealth. Houses
also were not safe places to keep a treasure. Especially in
times of chaos, such as war, people would bury their gold,
silver, jewels, and other precious items which were durable in
the ground. Subsequently, they might be killed or exiled and the
knowledge of the location of the hidden treasure was lost. At a
later time someone might stumble upon the treasure and recover
3. "Found ... hid." (v. 44) We might raise the ethical
issue of finding a treasure in a field that did not belong to us
and then hiding it so we can purchase the field. Buying the
field without disclosing the true value of the field containing
the treasure is a form of deception. While the ethics might be
questionable, it was
legal to do so at that time. An unclaimed hidden treasure became
the property of the owner of the place where it was located. The
law presumed that the seller of the field was not the owner of
the treasure or he would not sell it at a price much less than it
was worth. The principle was somewhat like the saying, "Finders
keepers, losers weepers!"
4. "A merchant." (v. 45) Pearls were not usually found in
Palestine. A merchant might travel to the Red Sea, the Persian
Gulf, or even to the Indian Ocean in search of pearls.
5. "Pearl." (v. 45) A pearl was a scarce item. It held a
place in the society of the time that diamonds hold in our
society. Pearls could be used as currency. To serve as currency
for trade, anything has to have certain properties. It has to be
relatively scarce to make it desirable. It has to be stable so
that it will not easily diminish in value over time. And it has
to be small enough to be easily portable. Pearls met all of
6. "Net." (v. 47) The net used would be a dragnet. It was
sometimes attached on shore at one end and then drug by the boat
out into the water to surround and catch the fish. At other
times two boats were used to drag the net in a large circle and
catch all the fish in a given area.
7. "Fish of every kind." (v. 47) It is not clear whether
Jesus deliberately intended to include every kind of fish in the
world and thereby to imply the universality of his message. He
may have intended to imply that the kingdom of heaven did not
just include the Jews. According to some sources, at the time
they thought all the different kinds of fish in the world
8. "When it was full." (v. 48) This expression points to
the end of history, the time of fulfillment. At that time
judgment will be made.
9. "Threw out the bad." (v. 48) According to Levitical law
only fish that had scales and fins were edible. People were not
to eat any swarming creatures in the water which did not have
fins and scales. They were detested.
10. "Scribes ... trained for the kingdom ..." (v. 52) The
disciples were to be learners. They had to be experts about the
nature of the kingdom of heaven as opposed to the scribes of the
Pharisees who were experts in the law. Some raise the question
as to whether at the time that Matthew wrote scribes were a
functioning position in the Christian church or not.
1. The Message of Joy. The person who found the treasure in
the field responded with joy at his discovery. Jesus frequently
participated in the joys of life. He attended weddings. He
enjoyed banquets. He found stimulating conversation in the home
of Mary and Martha. He attended a wedding. These activities
were quite a contrast to John the Baptist who lived a very
ascetic and probably lonely life in the desert. His was a
message of doom. Jesus, on the other hand, generally invited
people to the heavenly banquet. While those who came to John the
Baptist might be scared into repentance, those who followed Jesus
were attracted by his love. A Christian church which is an
evangelistic church will attract people by the joy manifested in
the life of the members who have discovered love, joy, and peace
2. The Highest Good. Often the enemy of the highest good is
the satisfaction with a lesser good. The merchant who searched
for the pearl of great value was restless with lesser values. In
a sense, human beings are never fully satisfied that they have
achieved their full potential. The Christian life is a constant
striving for complete fulfillment of possibilities. Christians
are drawn by the high example given in Jesus Christ. They can
constantly grow into the fullest maturity but they do so without
pervasive anxiety of those who have the underlying feeling,
consciously or unconsciously, that they have missed the real
meaning of life.
3. Paying the Price. Note that neither the man who bought
the field nor the merchant had any hesitation or showed any
regrets in having to pay the price to acquire the treasure and
the pearl. Some Christians give the impression that they have
made a great sacrifice in becoming Christian. They have given up
"worldly pleasures" which have no enduring value. It is life in
the kingdom that gives real pleasure and satisfaction. It is not
fleeting and momentary but deep and lasting, if they have found
the love of Christ filling their lives and the presence of the
Spirit enabling them to embrace others and the world in love.
4. The Multiplicity of the Church. The net drew in fish of
every kind. The good fish were not all of one kind. In the
church it is not external or surface conditions which distinguish
the good from the bad. The church encompasses all those who
receive Christ and bear fruits of the kingdom regardless of race,
ethnicity, nationality, cultural distinctions, economic status,
social rank, or gender. The church also includes persons who are
at different stages in their growth toward full maturity in
Christ. The church does not exclude merely because of
differences, but nourishes, encourages, and supports each other
in the pursuit of realization of the kingdom among us.
5. The Sea. In Hebrew culture the sea and the desert were
generally symbolic of the untamed forces of the world which tend
toward chaos. God is the being who brings order out of the
chaotic forces of the world. We bring order into the chaotic and
untamed urges in our lives when we submit them to the order of
God's rule. We also then identify the sources of chaos in the
world around us. Secure under the sovereignty of God who is
working to order the world, we can face the uncertainties of life
and overcome them. Even death loses its fear because we know the
order of grace which transcends the world and death.
6. Scribes trained for the kingdom. Jesus was in frequent
conflict with the scribes whom he confronted. They were trained
in the dead letter of the law. He was angered by the way their
sophistry enabled them to rationalize actions which in effect
defeated the intention of the law. They failed to recognize the
true moving of the spirit of life. One does not have to have all
knowledge to be a scribe in the kingdom. A scribe trained for
the kingdom does need to experience the realities of life. A
scribe needs to do what Peter eventually did. He moved beyond a
mere verbal confession of Christ to the experience of the power
of the resurrection. The scribe trained for the kingdom needs to
love Christ and tend his sheep with the knowledge of the love
that seeks and saves as a good shepherd.
1. Finding the Kingdom. (vv. 44-46) People come to the
kingdom in different ways. The way they arrive is not the
important issue. That they enter the kingdom is the issue.
A. Finding by Accident
B. Finding after Long Searching
C. Entry is Always by Grace
2. The Supreme Treasure Hunt. (vv. 44-46) Life is a search
to discover the meaning God intended for human life.
A. Knowing the Treasure
B. Seeking the Treasure
C. The Cost of the Treasure
3. The Paradox of the Kingdom. (vv. 44-46) The contrasts
of the values of the kingdom with the accepted values of the
world appear to be upside down. What appears to be giving up
some values really results in restoring the fullest values to
A. Giving up Self, Finding Self Fulfilled
B. Giving up Pleasures, Finding Life More Pleasurable
C. Giving up Life, Finding Eternal Life
4. The Pearl as a Symbol. (vv. 44-45) The pearl is made
from life. It is the result of the action of the oyster to deal
with an irritation.
A. Turning Life's Irritations into Jewels. People have
taken adversities and turned them into priceless examples of
B. Surrounding Evil with Love. Transforming evil with good
brings beauty in the midst of ugliness.
C. Overcoming Handicaps. Handicaps often become challenges
to excel rather than causes of defeat.
5. Training for the Kingdom. (v. 52) The person who would
be a scribe for the kingdom needs to develop discernment.
A. Discerning the Old and the New
B. Discerning the Treasure from Trash
C. Discerning the Good and the Bad
Points of Contact
1. The Excitement of a Treasure Hunt. A treasure hunt
excites the imagination. How excited we would be if we stumbled
onto an unexpected treasure Ä win the lottery, win the
sweepstakes, receive a large inheritance unexpectedly, find gold
or oil in our backyard. All these allow people to dream about
what they could do with such sudden fortune.
Yet often people who do come into such wealth are not happy
because of it. They are hounded by people who want to share in
their fortune. They discover relatives they never knew existed!
They quickly squander the riches and find the enjoyment of their
wealth was transitory. They may end up poorer than they were
before they suddenly became rich.
What a contrast to those who discover the treasure of the
kingdom. It opens ever new vistas of what life is all about.
They find themselves with "relatives," brothers and sisters in
the faith who do not demand from them but who support and
them. Their lives are further enriched by finding an expanded
family of faith.
2. True Riches. Jesus admonished his hearers not to lay up
for themselves treasure on earth but treasures in heaven (Matthew
7:14-20). How much anxiety and fear we generate when we have our
treasures on earth. We try to find security for such treasures
by putting them in safe deposit boxes, by building fences or
walls, by installing locks to keep people out, or in other ways
seek to protect our treasures. People even become prisoners in
their own homes trying to keep their treasures secure.
How different it is when we have treasures in the kingdom of
heaven. It is not something to be protected from others. Rather
it is a joy to share. It opens life to other people. We do not
find ourselves impoverished by sharing our treasure. Instead we
find our lives enriched and our treasures enlarged in the
3. Ever Seeking and Searching. Life is a process of growth.
Persons are goal-oriented beings. They are attracted by hope for
something better. The longing for fulfillment is finally
realized when persons find themselves in harmony with their
Creator. They find the longing satisfied when they realize the
purpose for which God intended them to be. In the life of the
flesh the possibility of continued growth is lifelong. Even when
the physical powers begin to fade and falter, spiritual growth
remains a continual search to the end of life in the flesh.
4. Worth the Risk. Both the person who found the treasure
in the field and the merchant who found the valuable pearl took
risks to obtain something they expected to give them greater
value. The persons who commit themselves to the kingdom of
heaven take the risk that they will find in living the life of
the kingdom, the truth about the meaning and purpose of life. It
is the great gamble. It bets that in this world they find joy
and satisfaction living in the kingdom as already present. It is
also the bet that life continues and finds final fulfillment
beyond this world. Still, even if this world is all they gain,
is it not worth the risk?
Points to Ponder
1. Where is the Treasure? The diversity of the two
treasures raises the issue of whether the treasure of the kingdom
is multiple or unitary. Do persons find the riches of the
kingdom in personal salvation, in the sense of release from sin
and guilt? Do they find the treasure in a transformed motivation
that leads to an ethical life which puts aside the temptations to
find the meaning of life in the pleasures of the flesh, or in the
temptations to spiritual pride? Or is the treasure found in the
life of the church, in the fellowship and community that offers
acceptance, that inspires to higher living, that supports and
comforts in times of weakness, pain, and distress? Or is the
treasure found in visioning a whole new world and working to
bring it to pass? Or is the treasure wrapped up in all the
2. How is the Kingdom Found? The two parables have two
different ways to find the kingdom. The first has it found by
accident. The man stumbled on it unawares. Do some persons come
to the kingdom by accident? Do they stumble on it without
seeking and yet become aware of its meaning and significance? In
the second parable the merchant searched for the pearl, possibly
by extensive travel far and wide. Do persons come to the kingdom
by searching the scripture and by seeking the preacher who brings
them the word? Is the kingdom found in only one way or are many
ways open to find it since the Spirit blows where it wills?
3. The Standard of Judgment. Are we judged by our behaviors
which are open and visible to all, or are we judged by our
motivation, our inner intention and purposing which are so often
hidden from others? Some question is raised about the ethics of
the man who found the treasure in the field. He used deception
to get it by covering it up and paying less for the field than
the treasure was worth. Did Jesus condone his actions or only
want to emphasize the final outcome? Was it the behavior or the
motivation that Jesus drew upon?
4. Justice at the End. Does the parable of the dragnet with
its good and bad fish give hope and assurance that the universe
ultimately has a moral structure to it? Can we have faith that
while it often appears that crime does pay and the evil is
winning, in the final outcome of life and history God brings
justice? Is it our task to live the life of faithfulness in
trust, patience, and perseverance even when it seems that the
evil is winning and the good is being defeated? Is our hope in a
just outcome to life and history a reasonable hope? If so, how
do we act in light of that hope?
5. Interpreting the Net. Is it proper to use allegory in
interpreting the parable of the dragnet? Does the boat represent
the church that should be gathering the people in by its
evangelizing? Or is the basket the church into which the good is
gathered? Will history come to an end when the net is full and
the time for the separation of the good and bad fishes has come?
Are we to do the separation of the fish or are we to leave it to
God's especially appointed agents outside of history?
6. Scribes in the Church. The Presbyterian Church has at
times made a distinction between the Teaching Elder and the
Ruling Elders. The Ruling Elders are lay persons who govern the
local congregation. The Teaching Elder is the pastor. He or she
is trained to teach the church proper doctrine. Should the
pastor be the "scribe ... trained for the kingdom of heaven," or
should that be a separate function in the congregation, or should
every Christian be such a scribe?
7. The Old and the New. Jesus did not fit very well the
categories of liberal and conservative. He valued the scriptures
of his day but he also had the courage and wisdom to reinterpret
them. Every person probably is a mixture of liberal and
conservative. The conservative wants to preserve the values of
the past. The liberal wants to adapt to new understandings and
conditions. People in their youth tend to want to make the world
over in their own image, and thus are inclined to be liberal. As
they age, they want to keep that which they have worked to
create. So they become
conservative. Does not every person at some point quit being a
liberal and become a conservative? What is the proper balance
between the old and the new that the Christian scribe should
1. Searching, Yet Accidental. Augustine's spiritual
experience is well known. He had tried various routes to achieve
fulfillment. He was for a time a Manichean. It did not leave
him satisfied. He was led in his search by his pious mother
Monica, who prayed for him, and by the preaching of Saint Jerome
at Milan, which aroused him to search further. He was puzzled
when he, a professor of rhetoric, still did not seem to have the
joy in the Christian life as did the relatively unlearned monks
in the Nubian desert. Then one day as he paced his walled garden
in vexation, he heard the children in the next garden playing a
game in which they chanted, "Tolle Lege" Ä "Take and Read." He
picked up the scripture, read Romans 13:13-14, and it happened to
him. He was converted and became a leading figure in developing
the theology of the early church.
2. Contrasting Ways to the Kingdom. Luther searched in a
way similar to Augustine. He tried many ways to achieve a sense
of salvation. After being frightened almost to death when caught
in a thunderstorm and thrown to the ground by lightning, he vowed
to give up his study of law and become a monk. He joined one of
the strictest orders, the Augustinians. He almost killed himself
in ascetic practices, trying to atone for a sense of guilt. Still
he did not find peace in his spiritual life. He was sent to Rome
to assist in settling a church dispute. While there he went up
the Pilate's stairs on his hands and knees, repeating the Lord's
prayer in Latin. But he was repulsed by his pilgrimage instead
of being assured of salvation. Then as he prepared lectures on
Romans, he came to the verse in Romans 1:17 and similar passages
which led him to his central theological principle, that of
justification by faith. In that study he received almost
accidentally what he had long sought. But he was prepared to
receive it by his previous dissatisfactions and longings.
3. Trading for Greater Riches. Millard Fuller was a
successful business man. At a relatively young age he had become
wealthy. Then he decided that he should give up his business and
devote the rest of his life to serving others. He found his new
role in starting and leading Habitat for Humanity. He has been
successful in providing relatively inexpensive housing for
thousands around the world. He seems never to have regretted his
decision to give up his wealthy business to give others
affordable housing as his particular calling in the kingdom.
4. Unexpected Treasure. In October of 1984 a previously
unknown painting by William Merritt Chase called A View of
Prospect Park was bought at a Denver auction for $500. It was
dated about 1885-1886. On December 6, 1984, the painting sold at
an auction by Sotheby's for $451,000, the highest amount ever
paid at an auction for a Chase painting to that date. It was
bought by Alexander Galleries in New York.
The painting was bought so cheaply because it had not been
authenticated as by Chase. His name was written on it in green
paint, but others who examined it thought he would never have
written his name that way. (Reported in Art News, 84:19-20, Feb.
5. Rich but Poor. Robert Polchek won $7.5 million in an
Ohio Super Lotto. He quit his $14,000-a-year job. He married
his high school sweetheart and built a house on eight acres of
land he bought. But friends and strangers hassled him for money.
He tried to sell his house, but when people found out he was a
lottery winner they wanted him to take a lower price for it.
Finally he snapped on January 23, 1994. He set his house on fire
after calling the Medina County emergency dispatcher. He was
arrested by two officers as he sat watching his house burn. On
July 12, 1994, he was convicted of felony aggravated arson. He
could face the possibility of being sentenced to 10 to 25 years
in prison. At this writing he is more likely to receive a
maximum fine of $10,000 and be required to reimburse the
volunteer fire department $2,500. Though he receives $300,000
each June from his lottery winning, he is an angry man. Family
and friends say it ruined him.