‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.’ Matthew 13:44
Many of Jesus’ parables portray the kingdom of heaven as a treasure hunter, not willing to give up on anything lost. Yet, in this parable, the tables seem turned with the kingdom of heaven likened to treasure. Even more surprising is that the treasure is hidden.
When a man found it . . .
Let’s call this man Amir. Amir finds the treasure in a field he does not own. The truth is, Amir does not own any field. He is a proud man who works hard to care for his wife Abigail and daughter Amira. His wife’s elderly parents also live with them. Amir has a strong back, but it would be an oversight to think he does not feel the weight of responsibility to provide for his family. Concern for his family brings Amir out to work for the landowners six days each week.
Amir woke early as usual. He kissed his wife on her forehead, then kissed his daughter gently on her cheek before tip-toeing out so as not to wake them. After dressing and grabbing his lunch, Amir began walking to the fields. The morning was cold but clear; birdsong cheered his steps. It would not be long before the sun would break over the horizon, warming the earth and nurturing his inner self.
Ploughing season meant long working days for farmhands. There was so much to be done around the village to prepare for next year’s harvest. Amir’s skill with oxen and the plough guaranteed he had plenty of work. Thoughts of his family warmed his heart and brought energy to his morning footslog. If there had been anyone else on the path that morning, they would have noticed a warm smile across Amir’s face. He mused on the name his father had given to him—Amir, prince.
At this thought, his smile broke into an audible laugh! Amir certainly did not feel princely, guiding the plough behind the steady gait of the oxen. He did, however, feel a certain
measure of pride at day’s end when he looked over the furrowed patterns he had created.
Amir opened the gate and headed across the yard to the open barn to untie the oxen. The pair were yoked and hitched to the plough. His workday had begun.
Amir knew this field. He had worked it many times over the years. ”Giddyup,” he called to the pair of oxen. Back and forth, the team trudged, back and forth. The soil was damp, and the turned earth smelled fresh and musky.
All through the morning, Amir and his team laboured without a break. He marvelled at the strength of these animals. Amir knew about being strong. This quality was vital because his family depended on it to eat. Just the same, there were times he felt frustrated with the struggle of life. As he worked, he wondered Do these animals ever get frustrated, too?
Amir enjoyed the opportunity to daydream as he walked and wrestled the plough behind the steady plod of the oxen. Oh, how he wanted to shower blessings on his family. The truth is, he did—he poured out the very best of benefits that come from living a life of commitment, diligence and integrity. But it did not always feel that way to Amir. He wanted to gift them even more. He was eager to provide something special for his loved ones. Yet this was the stuff of daydreams for a man of his lowly status.
Amir didn’t know it yet, but this day was to become a milestone that separated his life into two epochs—before and after.
Crack! The plough blade caught. No time to think of what it had caught on! Amir’s firm grip on the plough sent him tumbling to the earth as the plough kicked sideways. ”Whoa!” cried Amir. The oxen stopped, no doubt glad of a rest.
”What was that?”
Amir had helped to clear this field years before. ”How could they have missed these tree roots?” he thought as he picked himself up and dusted himself off.
He made his way back along the furrow, noticing splinters of decaying wood as he went. His only thought at this point was to remove the offending object so that there would be no risk of being thrown in the future. Dropping to the ground, Amir pulled the earth back with his hands and found the remains of a lock that had almost rusted away. As he pulled out more soil, Amir discovered what seemed to be a container. Further digging and clearing allowed him to lift away a partially rotted lid.
”Oh my!” he cried out in disbelief.
Amir sat back on the ground, placing his head in his hands. There was a gentle rocking in Amir’s upper body along with repeated whispers of ”Wow!” Amir looked around. He was by himself. Others were working in neighbouring fields, but they were far distant. He could hardly believe what had just happened. He had uncovered a treasure chest that contained great riches!
Upon replacing the lid, Amir gathered up the timber fragments and carefully reburied the chest. Before returning to the plough, he took careful note of his position. He must not forget this place.
The rest of the day was a blur for Amir as he ploughed the field before hurrying home. Thoughts of the secret treasure seemed to fill his very being, and he excitedly shared his tale of discovery on his arrival home. How could he make this treasure his own? After all, there was a reason Amir was a labourer. His lowly status meant that he never had the means to become a landowner, but now he must!
”That’s it!” he exclaimed to his wife, Abigail; ”we must buy that field whatever the price!”
It took some time, but Amir did make the purchase. He sold everything he had and bought that field.
Amir’s story might sound like a ”winning lotto” account, but it’s not. A person participates in a lottery hoping that their ticket, purchased with little, is the lucky one that wins much. In this parable, the treasure is the kingdom of heaven. Jesus admonishes that we should ”seek first his kingdom”. Sadly, we don’t. Remember that Amir was not looking for the treasure. He found it. He stumbled on it. It’s as if the treasure was placed in Amir’s path that day so that it would be found. Could it be that the kingdom of heaven is willing to play divine hide-and-seek with us? Now that’s an idea that is worth pondering!
Young children love to play hide-and-seek, and they love to play with their parents or grandparents. When the adult hides, is he or she trying never to be found? Of course not! The adults are not hiding ”from” their child; they are hiding ”for” their child—so too with God. Like a divine Grandpa, God said to the exiles in Babylon: ”You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” The meaning is clear; engage in seeking God, and the outcome of finding God is guaranteed. This raises an important issue. How do I engage in seeking in the first place? It sounds like the decisive first move is up to me. However, God said to these same exiles: ”I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord.” This affirms that God indeed is the One who acts first, even to
giving us the heart to want to seek Him. John Piper asserts that this is one of the most basic things people need to understand about the Bible. It is full of conditions we must meet for God’s blessings. God, however, does not leave us to meet them on our own. The first and decisive work before and in our willing is God’s prior grace.
Let’s go back to the grandpa hide-and-seek game. Imagine if I wore a badge that read: ”The Grandpa Award—Best Hide-and-Seek Player—Never Found by his Grandchildren—Always Wins!” That would be absurd. You would think this guy had lost the plot, and you would be right. No, I am not hiding with the purpose of never being found by my grandchildren. Instead, I am hiding so that I will be found! And I play when the grandchildren are ready to engage. There is something extraordinary about the moment when a child is curious, ready, willing and able to seek. I am watching out for their readiness. I am encouraging their willingness. Then, at just the right moment, I hide so that they find me in their path. The result is delight and celebration. Of course, the game replays. I hide, and I am found, once again. As the child grows, I choose more challenging hiding spots, and if it is too hard for the child to find me, I give clues—a little owl call or a slight squeak—to catch their attention and keep them in the game. And with each game, our relationship deepens, and we get to know each other better.
So too with the kingdom of heaven! God is like a divine Grandpa eager to play hide-and-seek with His human family, growing in their hearts a longing to engage in seeking; and guaranteeing that the seeking will be successful. All of this leads to great celebration and joy.
Remember that the treasure hidden in the field was not found by intent. At least, not the intent of the man who found it. However, when the man did find it, he recognised it as treasure. Somehow he knew that he must make it his own.
This thought takes me back to when I was walking with a good friend. He remarked, ”I’m tired of the pretence, the charades, and the absence of realness in my church experience and my relationship with God. I am going to give God one year. If I cannot have a real and personal relationship with the living Creator God by then, I’m outta here!”
While my friend was frustrated, doing the daily plod, and surviving, the kingdom of heaven saw the readiness in his heart to engage. Divine hide-and-seek was ”game on”! The kingdom of heaven, hid in my friend’s path and was found. Upon discovering the treasure, my friend chose to ”sell all he had to buy that field”—to make the treasure his own rather than leave it ”hidden in a field” to remain someone else’s exciting story. My friend now has a relationship with the Creator God—a real relationship. That is the treasure. This treasure, like an immense fortune, blesses him. This treasure overflows to bless me and many others around him. Now that is amazing grace!
So, why not call out, ”Here I come. Ready or not!”
Oh, the kingdom of heaven is hiding, ready to be found. Guaranteed!
Craig Mattner is a teacher of mathematics and photography at Prescott College Southern in Adelaide, SA.