The Lookout | 3.7.10
By Alan Dowd
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. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
When we read these parables, our first inclination is to focus on the kingdom of heaven and on what Christ is revealing about it—and understandably so. Like that huge crowd that gathered at the water’s edge to hear Christ’s words, we lean in close to get a better sense of what awaits us in His kingdom.
But the King of kings is talking about more than His kingdom here. He’s also talking about what it takes to find His kingdom. He’s talking about those who seek and search for it. He’s talking about us.
First things first. In these parables, Jesus is not talking merely about His heavenly kingdom. He’s also talking about a state of mind, a state of heart, a state of being that is reflective of what He holds dear, of what His eternal kingdom is like, of what this world will look like when He puts everything back in place.
The kingdom of heaven is found where the “beatitude attitudes” reign—justice and mercy, peace and purity, meekness and kindness, righteousness and grace. These are all in short supply in our world. As Philip Yancey writes in The Jesus I Never Knew, “The kingdom of God operates by a set of rules different from any earthly kingdom’s.” It is “an alternative society demonstrating what the world is not, but one day will be.”[i]
Hence, it may be most accurate to say that while the kingdom can live in us—because the King can live in our hearts—we do not yet live in the kingdom.
Even so, we can catch glimpses of the kingdom to come. Even better, we can and should do things to prepare the way for the kingdom. These parables tell us something about how Jesus wants us to view His kingdom—and how He wants us to pursue it.
Indeed, Jesus emphatically focuses on the seeker in the second of these parables. “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls,” He explains.
Some settle for second-rate or artificial pearls. Others get tired and stop looking altogether. Still others never even look. But those who care enough to look for—to pursue—that pearl of unmatched value will find it. And they will know it when they see it.
The precious pearl brings the discriminating merchant great joy. But there also is a price: The seeker will give up everything that keeps him from possessing the pearl—the kingdom.
Jesus is telling us that He wants seekers. He wants people who search for Him and His kingdom with passion.
There is an echo here of something Christ says later, in Matthew 11. He notes, almost cryptically, that “forceful men” pursue the kingdom of heaven and seize it like “a precious prize.” As the Amplified Bible translates it, “A share in the heavenly kingdom is sought with most ardent zeal and intense exertion.”
He wants us to dig deep, to discern the eternal and heavenly from the temporary and earthly, to find and hold on to what really matters.
He says this in many ways throughout the Gospels: He asks the rich young ruler—and us—to give up all the junk that distracts us from the kingdom. He challenges the Pharisees—and us—to move beyond the rituals of religion and the pretense of piety in order to focus on the heart and spirit of the kingdom. He explains to the Samaritan woman—and us—that He delights in those who worship in spirit and in truth. And He promises those who flocked to hear His mountainside sermon—and us—that if we “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” He will take care of the rest.[ii]
Beyond the Surface
In the first of these parables, Jesus explains that the kingdom of heaven is like buried treasure, hidden for safekeeping in a field. I get a sense that the treasure has always been there. After all, the kingdom is an extension of God, and He is eternal.
I also get a sense that the field is unremarkable, nondescript, easily overlooked. There’s no indication that the field holds anything special beneath the surface—let alone a treasure equal to the value of a lifetime of savings and wealth and possessions.
There’s a message inside Christ’s message here. It’s as if the Lord is reminding us of something He said centuries earlier—that we should never judge a circumstance or a person simply by what’s on the surface. “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at,” God explained to Samuel. “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”[iii]
When we fail to look past the surface, we might miss out on a treasure that God has left behind for us to find—the treasure that exists in our friends and family, in neighbors and strangers, even in our enemies.
Indeed, it’s important to remember that Christ tells us the kingdom of God can and does exist in us. “The kingdom of God is within you,” He declares in Luke’s gospel.[iv]
That is a staggering notion. It should bring us exhilaration—and give us pause. Jesus is saying that buried deep under the surface, beneath a broken nature and a lifetime of junk, under the masks we wear and the defenses we build, there exists a treasure, a trace of eternity and of God Himself. As the author of Ecclesiastes observed, God has planted eternity in the human heart.[v]
If we don’t look beyond the surface, we will miss out on a piece of God’s kingdom. We will miss out on a treasure.
The kingdom doesn’t just jump out and appear to us. It takes searching and seeking to find it—perhaps a lifetime of seeking. Only the person who stops to search the field, who takes the time to look for the priceless pearl, who seeks the extraordinary amid the ordinary, will find the treasure.
But God’s not playing a game or setting us up to fail. Again and again, the Lord promises all the seekers—all those searching for buried treasure—that they will find Him if they just put their hearts into it.
In Deuteronomy 4, Moses declares that even in exile, “You will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.” In Jeremiah 29, the Lord reiterates that same message. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” And in the Gospels, Jesus echoes the promise. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find.”
[i] Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, pp.246-253.
[ii] Matthew 6:33.
[iii] I Samuel 16:7.
[iv] Luke 17:20-21.
[v] Ecclesiastes 3.