July 30, 2023; Matthew 13:44-52; 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In the ancient world, there were no banks or credit unions, so if you had some extra money, and you wanted to keep it safe, you had to hide it. Now, you could put it under your mattress. But if you had a lot of money, that was uncomfortable. So, people then would go and find an isolated place, dig a hole in the ground, and bury the money. But if you suddenly died before you could go back to retrieve the money, your money became a treasure that was hidden in a field. No one knew it was there. This background is useful for understanding Jesus’s first parable in today’s gospel. A man discovers that a field has such a treasure buried within it, and then sells all that he has to buy it.
Jesus says that this is what the Kingdom of God is like. But what does he mean by that? The parable can be understood as showing how God sees us. In this understanding, God is the buyer, and we are the field. God sees in us a treasure that is hidden from others and perhaps even from ourselves. And God wants us as God’s own, so that the treasure can be dug up and made useful for ourselves and others.
We might be a person very confident in what we believe, sure of the truth. It could be the truth about politics, economics, race relations, or religion. When other people try to argue with us, we dismiss them as ignorant or foolish. Because the truth is our possession. When God sees us, God sees a treasure within us: the treasure of openness. This treasure would allow us to listen to others who disagree with us, to understand their experience, and thereby broaden and balance our own understanding of the truth. Others who know us might have no idea that we have such a potential, but God sees it, hidden within us.
We might be people who have been deeply hurt, because of the betrayal of a friend or the rejection of someone we love. The wound of that hurt still festers in our heart, coloring our life with hatred and anger. We long to be free from such emotions that pull us down, but we do not know where to begin. When God sees us, God sees within us a treasure of forgiveness, a compassion that allows us to ease up, a strength that allows us to let go of what has been done to us, so that we can be free again. We might have no idea that such potential is within us, but God knows that it is there, buried deep within.
We could be a person who struggles to admit our own self-worth. A terrible disaster or the ridicule of others has somehow convinced us that we are second rate at best. But when God sees us, God sees within us the treasure of our own uniqueness, a particular way of contributing to the world for which we need no apology, a giftedness that is particularly our own. Although we might not be able to see it or own it, God knows that it is within us, as our treasure.
Now, the good news of Jesus’ parable is that the man who buys the field does so with joy, because he is confident that he can dig up the treasure and use it. The parable is telling us that God looks at us with joy. God is joyful because God is confident that with time, and grace, and more experience, the treasures buried within us can also be unearthed. What is hidden can be seen. Our potential for openness, forgiveness, and self-worth can become a reality, visible to ourselves and others, all contributing to the Kingdom of God.