Treasure, Pearls and Fishing Nets

Ordinary 17A

Matthew 13: 44 52

Introduction

This passage is our third and final section in this chapter of parables Jesus used on this occasion to convey his intimations about the kingdom to those prepared to listen. They are straightforward and we will treat them briefly.

Some Notes On the Text

Verse 44

The Kingdom of Heaven (that is, the Rule of God) is like the situation in which a labourer, ploughing his employer's field, discovers either a hidden treasure chest, or a mine of valuable metal. Filled with joy he does not hesitate to sell everything he owns to buy the field.

Verse 45 and 46

Likewise a well-to-do merchant, always on the lookout for quality pearls, comes across one the like of which he had not seen before. He also does not hesitate to sell everything he owns in order to purchase this rare find.

Reflection

We notice immediately what our Lord draws attention to in the minds of his disciples:

  • Whether they stumbled across the treasure "by accident" or whether it was the result of intensive searching, both men discovered something waiting to be found.
  • They thought nothing of giving up everything to take possession of the newfound treasure; in fact they did so with great joy.
  • For Jesus, those who recognise what they have come across when they discover the kingdom of God are indeed richly blessed. They will, his teaching demonstrates, joyfully consider it to be the most precious of gifts from God and will let nothing stand in the way of attaining it and remaining a loyal member.

Verses 47 and 48

The kingdom of heaven is also like a net which, when let down into the lake, catches all kinds of fish and other objects. When it is full, the fishermen drag it into shore. The fish suitable for eating are kept, and everything else is thrown back into the water.

Our Lord, as we have previously observed, embodies many of his key ideas in parables the meaning of which his disciples have always had to seek after. In this case Jesus gives an explanation, which is in fact the same as for the parable of the wheat and the tares.

Verse 50

"At the end of the age, the angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace."

You may have noticed how common it is for modern Christians to distance themselves from any representation of these words of our Lord in traditional art forms. It is symptomatic of a much deeper and more pervasive problem we have, in our day, of taking seriously everything he taught.

This parable and its explanation is not just a repetition of the same teaching found in the wheat and tares parable to balance Matthew's Gospel structure. It underpins the whole sequence of teaching. It is not the disciples who are to take possession of the Kingdom, by force or any other means. Nor are they to be preoccupied with roping in others even if it is for God's Kingdom. Rather it is they who must themselves surrender everything and be possessed by no less than the King himself. That is the key to the evangelistic outreach of Jesus.

Verses 51 and 52

Jesus asked his disciples a very straightforward question:

"Have you understood all these things?"

They answered, "Yes". In his rabbinic style Jesus rounds off the whole sequence of parables with yet another:

"Every scholar, then, whose learning is of the kingdom of heaven must be like a rich man, who knows how to bring both new and old things out of his treasure house".

Those who have surrendered all and have thereby entered into the service of Jesus are treated as members of his household, and have unimpeded access to all the Father has shared with him. It is then that they will be able to share their understanding of the mysteries of God with those who, in turn, listen to their instruction.

Here Jesus confirms their special gift of understanding; not that they will always have instant understanding in a flash. Often, that will take time. Jesus is endorsing the fact that having truly become his disciples, the gift of spiritual understanding will follow as surely as day follows night, even if it is a long Arctic night, which must first be endured.

Thus we learn that our Lord's disciples (specifically the twelve Apostles) did not become disciples because they first had understanding. Rather, because they took the step of faith and became his devoted disciples, they received the spiritual capacity to understand spiritual treasures shared with and revealed to them. And so it is with those to whom they passed on the gift of the Faith.

Conclusion

Yet again, our Lord affirms all of revelation in the Old Testament. As his disciples down the ages, explain his teaching, they will find it natural also to draw on the "Old" (meaning venerable: what has come before) revelation as he did himself. This will indeed be incomparable treasure, worthy of any sacrifice we may be called upon to make.

The teaching of the early Church leaders in this matter is worthy of our reflection:

"I do not seek to have understanding
so that I might believe.

Rather I believe, that I might 
have understanding."

If this is your prayer, may it be answered generously.

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