Nowadays if we have valuables that need safe keeping, we can place them in a safe or lodge them in a strongbox somewhere; and if we have money to spare we can put it in a bank, building society or in an investment platform. In first century Palestine there were no such facilities so it was common for people to safeguard precious items by burying them in the ground.
Forgetting about these buried items or dying without telling one’s heirs about them was known to happen in Jesus’ time. Today we hear him telling us about a person stumbling upon a long-forgotten treasure buried in a field of which the present land owner was oblivious. In the story, the finder of the treasure, needing to purchase the land in order to claim the goods, goes and sells everything he owns to buy the field so that he may have the treasure.
Jesus uses this story to explain what people have to do when they discover what it is to belong to what he calls the ‘kingdom of heaven’. He is not talking about kingdom or heaven as a place, or “getting to heaven”. “Kingdom of heaven” is simply the Gospel of Matthew’s preferred expression for what Mark and Luke call “the kingdom (or reign) of God.” This kingdom is a reference not to a place but to a relationship with Jesus in which you base your life on his values, and, thus, belong to a community of people joined to him just like you.
In this relationship you feel truly accepted and loved by God and make you realise that everything else in life, no matter how special, is less important. But to get hold of this treasure you must be prepared to let go of everything, like the man buying the field.
To make the point, Jesus adds a second story about a merchant who finds the perfect jewel or gemstone he has spent his life searching for. So he, too, “goes and sells everything he owns and buys it.” Like the man buying the field with the treasure in it, this merchant risks everything to secure the object of his desire.
If our Lord was telling an equivalent parable today, what modern image would he use to convey this willingness to give up everything for something of value. What about the one where a person falls head over heels in love and, perhaps, recklessly casts everything aside – even family – to have a relationship with another person.?
For Jesus, to belong to him and his kingdom costs not less than everything and for him it is a price worth paying.
The story about King Solomon in the First Reading illustrates the spirit of this teaching. Invited by God to ask for anything he wants, Solomon asks for “a heart to understand how to discern between good and evil”. He, too, is willing trade important worldly values for this most prized possession – true wisdom – which for us is to be found in belonging to the kingdom of heaven.
It’s not easy to do all Jesus asks to belong to his kingdom. All of us are not able to do as he asks all of the time. Life gets in the way! So today we pray for that wisdom to know what is truly important and to be able to live life accordingly. And if we feel the Lord is asking more of us, we might ask ourselves this: what form of selfishness, greed, anger or vengeance do I need to let go of to belong to his kingdom?
The Bright Field
R S Thomas
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Holy Name, Jesmond
26 July 2020