“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. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
What’s your most precious possession? A picture from your childhood? A trophy awarded you for some significant accomplishment? A rocking chair that used to sit in your grandmother’s living room? Some knick knack made by your child? A piece of art that you found and purchased? The wedding band you wear well after your beloved’s death? A family album lovingly put together?
What’s your most precious possession? Maybe it’s something others would also value highly, maybe it’s something that means a lot only to you. But what is it?
In this series of incredibly short parables, Jesus invites his disciples to imagine that the kingdom of God is just like that – something of incomparable value that, while it may or may not be valued by the world, is worth everything you have.
The parables are, when you listen closely, rather different. In the first, the main character’s behavior is sketchy at best. He finds a treasure in someone else’s field, hides it to ensure no one else finds it, and then buys the field in order to claim the treasure. It’s a little like realizing a farm in North Dakota is sitting on an oil field and not telling the elderly couple living there so you can but it from them for cheap. All this guy cares about is getting that treasure.
The merchant in the second parable is someone we can admire more easily. Finding a perfect specimen of the pearls he has spent his life trading, he sells all he has in order to possess this one. All he cares about is getting that pearl.
And that’s what both parables have in common: the simple recognition of stumbling upon something of supreme worth and doing anything – anything! – to get it. That’s what the kingdom of God is like.
Except there’s more. The focus of the third parable shifts our attention from our desire to find the kingdom to God’s desire to find all of us. Now the kingdom is a net, a net that catches all manner of fish. For God wants to scoop all of us into the kingdom, catching us up into God’s grace.
That’s not all this last parable says, of course. There is also a sorting of good fish and bad, those who will enter the kingdom and those who will not. Two brief words on this starker element. First, given that it follows the explanation of the parable of the wheat and weeds, we should notice again that the job of sorting isn’t given over to us, but to God’s angels, and so we shouldn’t be too quick to assume we can tell good fish from bad. Second, I would hesitate to construct a theology of judgment or the end times from parables. Parables are meant to draw us up short, giving us a glimpse of God’s surprising kingdom and inviting us to reconsider our assumptions. In this case, these parables invite us to imagine that the kingdom Jesus preaches and enacts is worth way more than what we might at first imagine and to trust that God intends that all be caught up into it.
So I’ll ask again, what is your most precious possession? That’s what the kingdom of God is like.
Prayer: Dear God, kindle our hearts to value your kingdom and to seek to share this treasure with all we meet. In Jesus’ name, Amen.