Matthew 13:44-52
True Treasure

by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

    Jesus said to his disciples: The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.  When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets.  What is bad they throw away.  Thus it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

Do you understand all these things?"  They answered, "Yes."  And he replied, "Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old."

What do deep sea fishing, jewelry collectors and buried treasure all have in common?  For most, the answer seems simple: absolutely nothing.  For some willing to stretch, they're all possible hobbies of swashbuckling pirates. After all, who else buries treasure and spends time near water hording riches?

When it comes to the meaning of the parables, we can be fairly confident that the Lord didn't have pirates in mind.  Yet, these three seemingly disparate things are all used by Jesus as short analogies to lead us closer to the kingdom of heaven.  In our Gospel today (Mt 13:44-52), Jesus tells us that the kingdom is like a treasure buried in a field, a pearl of great price, or a choice fish caught in a net.  We also know from experience that if we sit patiently with each image, pondering the sights and smells and mechanics of each, they open for us like a flower blossoming, expanding new insights like beautiful petals.  Doing so, we discover that there are at least three themes that unite all the images.

First, each involves something of great value that is hidden and must be discovered by someone with wisdom and a discerning eye.  The treasure is buried in a field, hidden from sight and when unearthed, must be recognized for its worth by wisdom.  Pearls are hidden not only at the bottom of the ocean, but inside oysters as well.  Even after they've been extracted, it still takes a discerning eye to tell real pearls from false ones.  Fish are also hidden beneath the wavers and must be "uncovered" with nets and brought to the surface.  Only the wise fisherman knows the location of the good fishing spots.

Second, each analogy involves effort and "getting one's hands dirty" to attain the prize.  Unless you're willing to hunt and work up a sweat digging in a field, you won't find buried treasure.  If you aren't willing to hold your breath and get wet or risk the slimy, razor'-like oyster beds, you won't harvest pearls.  And last, a fisherman only fills his net with fish if he leaves the shore and safety behind and embraces the danger of the depths.

Last, each is obtained by some sort of redemption or sacrifice.  By law, the treasure belongs not to the finder (no finders-keepers) but to the proper owner of the field.  To win the treasure, one must own the field.  Likewise, neither oysters nor hand-shelled jewelers part with pearls without a fee.  And unless a fisherman sorts good fish from bad, he's likely to end up with food poisoning, a meager breakfast of minnows, or worse, an old shoe.

Behind all these images and their commonalities lies a twofold truth: Each image applies to Christ as he seeks us, and each applies to us in our seeking the face of God in Christ.  How?

God so loved the world that he sent his only son: Christ seeks the hidden treasure in each one of us.  Each of us is made n the image and likeness of  God.  We're a pearl, a treasure, a good catch.  But that image is obscured by the layers of dirt of our sins and the shifting, chaotic tides of our will.  Yet, in love for us, Christ got dirty, he sacrificed and "purchased" us on the cross to bring about his resurrection in each of us.

We in turn must respond in faith with a discerning eye and a willingness to get our hands dirty.  Amid the dirt and false pearls of the world, do we dig for the true treasure stored up for us in Jesus?  He is eternal life, truth, goodness and beauty.  To find that treasure, it's not "X" that marks the spot, but the cross.  He gave all to win us in love.  Where might he be calling us to some small fasting, sacrifice, or penance this week to set before our eyes that great prize and to practice giving all we have to make it our own?