Because parables are flexible and humanity’s collective imagination is also, parables have been made to mean a myriad of fanciful things. Here is a novel idea: when Jesus says some text is about the kingdom of God, then that text is about the kingdom of God. Now we can take a rest. (smile)
Today’s parables answer a question that is still crucial today: just how valuable is discovering the kingdom of heaven?
44 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.
45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Kline Snodgrass likes to say that the Parable of the Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl are twins, just not identical twins. In fact, neither is a full blown parable because they lack a developed plot. They are similitudes because they make a simple comparison about the kingdom of heaven. This comparison is done by the repeated phrase the kingdom of God is like, a phrase found four times in Matthew 13:44-52.
Jesus is not the treasure hidden in the field or the pearl of great value. Those ideas could be part of two useful parables, just not these two parables! Instead, Jesus continues his efforts to give his new disciples a more comprehensive understanding of the kingdom of heaven. We have no right to hijack his effort in order to make some point of our own, no matter how true that point might be.
Once again, facts will help us get started in interpretation. In the ancient world, there were no banks or combination safes, so the best that people could do was to hide their valuables in the ground. Also, people did not live as long then as we do now, and unexpected death was more frequent. For these reasons, finding buried treasure became a symbol for amazing luck that approximated winning the lottery in our culture.
Another factual issue is the state of the law in the first century. Some modern people have felt that the man who found the treasure and reburied it before purchasing the field was behaving unethically by our standards. Of course, our standards are irrelevant, and this similitude never raises the issue of legality or ethics. Under ancient laws, all is resolved when the field is purchased.
More to the point, parables mention those matters needed to figure out the parable; you never interpret a parable by what is not there. What is there tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure that is worth everything you have to acquire (verse 44). Beyond that, the man gives all he has with joy to get the hidden treasure. France brings out that, in making this transaction, the man is acting in pure self-interest.
To understand the Parable of the Pearl, you need to know that a merchant (Greek emporos) was a man who traveled by sea, searching for goods he could buy wholesale for later sale. France does justice to the word by calling him a trader. This man was on the prowl, searching for fine pearls (verse 45). In antiquity, such pearls were found in the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and Indian Ocean. Unlike modern times, such pearls were then considered the most valuable of all items, and some sold for what would be tens of millions of dollars today
When he encountered the special pearl, he briefly departed to sell everything he had so that he could buy it (verse 46). The kicker is that he bought the special pearl to keep it, not to sell it. The kingdom of heaven is a show-stopper, a possession worth everything. We have a word for something like that: priceless. Search until you find it!
Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Materials originally written for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used with permission.
 Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 242.
 Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 244.
 France, Matthew, 541.
 France, Matthew, 538.
 Craig Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 392.