Hidden treasures were not uncommon in Israel. Palestine was / is the land bridge between many of the aggressive nations of the north and east to Egypt. Egypt was always considered a plum target, because of its power and wealth. And so to get from the empires of north or east to Egypt, it was necessary to go through Palestine, Israel, Canaan. And because armies march on their stomachs and tended to mop up whatever they could, it was common enough for inhabitants to feel the necessity of hiding their money and valuables in the ground. This was a good strategy, if you lived to return to the family treasure, but some did not and it left an open question about what was to be done with discovered hidden treasures. The assumption was that since families handed down land from generation to generation that whoever owned the land was the most likely to be the legitimate heir of the treasure. It was not “finders keepers”; you had to own the land upon which you found the treasure. This was the law and the practice in ancient Judea. And in this law and practice, Jesus found a great illustration contained in a single verse. For the sake of explaining things to a modern audience a little more clearly, let me provide an expanded version.
One day a day laborer, a plowman, hires himself out to a wealthy landowner, who has just purchased an old farm. The landowner wants the laborer to prepare this piece of land that has lain fallow for some time, for a new crop of wheat. The laborer takes his plow, an ox, and a few other tools to a field filled with grass, thistles, and a few clumps of scrub brush from years of neglect. After he has plowed several rows across the field, his plow strikes a something hard. Thinking that he probably struck a hidden boulder or tree stump in this old neglected field, he pulls aside his plow and ox and begins digging to remove the obstruction, if possible. To his surprise he finds that it is neither a boulder or a tree stump, but a box. He pulls the box out of the ground and opens it to discover a hoard of gold and silver coins, jewelry, and jewels. His jaw drops in amazement. It is a virtual king’s ransom, more money than he has ever seen in his life. After an initial whoop of joy, the plowman suddenly weighs what he should do. He knows the law regulating such discoveries; he must own the land in order to legitimately claim the treasure.
“What shall I do?” he wonders; “In order to buy this land I will have to sell absolutely everything that I own — my plow, my oxen, the sheep and goats we keep for milk and wool, my tools, my cart, the furniture in my house, my house, my savings, and the tiny bit of inheritance that my father left to me. I think that all of it together might just be enough to buy this land from the landowner.” A smile spreads over his face as he carefully closes the box, looks all around him to make sure nobody else sees what he found, and returns the box to the hole and carefully covers the hole. He unhitches the ox from the plow, puts the plow on his cart, hitches the ox up to the cart and for joy hurries the ox back to his house. When he arrives he starts filling the cart with all his possessions and animals. His wife thinks he’s crazy, but he knows better. Then he is off to town, whistling a happy tune all the way, where he starts selling all his possessions — still with a smile that he just can’t seem to wipe off his face, because it comes from a joyful heart. Friends and neighbors buy his things, shaking their heads — he must be crazy!
Now, with a bag full of money he approaches the landowner and makes his proposal to buy the field. The landowner is shrewd and sure enough it takes every copper coin in his purse to make the purchase, but still he is grinning from ear to ear. He runs home with the deed in his hand to his wife, who is now beside herself with worry and anxiety about why her husband has just sold everything they own — what will become of them now? He shows her the deed for the field, but she is not comforted. “What good will this field be to us? How will we plow it now that you’ve sold the plow and the oxen?” she very sensibly asks. “Follow me,” he responds with a grin.
He takes her to the field, finds the end of his last furrow and begins to pull away the dirt, which reveals the box. He pulls it up and opens it for her to see. Now she understands! Selling everything they had was really a very small investment for such a once-in-a-lifetime return — treasure that would make it possible for them to never be in want for anything again! A smile now spreads across her face, too, which erupts into joyous laughter and celebration. Today they may not have anything, but tomorrow they can have anything they want!
Jesus’ point is that discovering the kingdom of God is very much the same. When we discover the kingdom of God, and if we recognize its true value is, then even the price of “all that we have” will be considered a cheap investment for such a treasure. Would the yielding of my money, if needed, really be too much? Would the losing of family be too great a price for Heaven? As I am called on to serve others, would I really be sacrificing too much? If I am called upon to share the Gospel, would the Lord really be asking too much of me? As I fall out of bed on Sunday morning and give worship to the Lord with the church, is it really a such a dire sacrifice, a cost beyond the pale? As I am called upon to die to myself and live to Christ, am I really being foolish? If I am called upon to give up my earthly life as a martyr, has the price really been too great to gain eternal life? In a word, never! Paul put it this way…
Phil. 3:7-11 — “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
What is the value of forgiveness of sins? The confident hope of eternal life? The value of my soul? As Jesus put it, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25).
This parable challenges us to weigh priorities and values. We are immersed in a material world and tend to place great value on things of this world. But given that this life is temporary, that even valuable things will rust, and decay, and that even the mountains will one day melt in the presence of the Lord’s absolutely certain second coming — are you putting the right emphasis on spiritual things, on the kingdom, in your life?
Is the kingdom of value to you? You can tell by the smile on your face and the joy in your heart — or lack thereof.
I’m certainly glad the former owner didn’t wreck havoc