ColumnsSunday’s Word

A treasure, a pearl, a net

July 26, 2020


1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12

Solomon prays for wisdom

Ps 119:57, 72, 127-130

Wonderful are your decrees

Rom 8:28-30

All works for good for his beloved

Mt 13:44-52

A treasure, a pearl, a net


This is the third week with the parables of Matthew 13. The chapter is the centerpiece of five lengthy speeches of Jesus, generally called “discourses” by biblical scholars (chs. 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24-25). Matthew gives each of the five a concluding formula statement — “When Jesus finished these words…,” or in this case, “these parables” (see 7:28; 11;1; 13:53; 191; 26:1).

Today’s Gospel reading includes three parables — the Treasure, the Pearl without price, and the Net. The Treasure is selected for further development by the choice of the Old Testament reading. Solomon’s riches are the opening theme. However, it is his request for wisdom that is highlighted, and the riches came later. One wonders if he knew that. And if he already had some degree of wisdom in order to make that call.

Jesus’ parable of the treasure draws on a particular set of circumstances in Israel. As a Bible map will show, the land of Israel is in a narrow corridor between two civilizations, that of Egypt and that of Asia Minor. The corridor is narrow because of the Mediterranean Sea on one side and the Arabian Desert on the other. Given this ground plan, the competing empires from each end often met in the middle to engage each other in battle.

As one can imagine such a history of battles left its scars on the land. In one way, this generated troves of treasure. Since armies lived off the land, looting the towns they came through, it was customary to act poor when they came near. Bury your treasure, and dig it up later, when they were gone. That worked well, unless you didn’t manage to survive their passing through. In that case, your treasure was gone and forgotten. The land is rich in this way, you could say.

Because of these circumstances, there were laws about discovering buried treasure. While the trove was the property of the landowner, in cases of long lost treasure, unknown to the owner, it was fair game to buy the land and claim the prize.

The parable presumes this practice, and applies it to spiritual matters. A large part of the lesson is that the treasure is not earned or acquired by personal effort. It is not a result of concerted effort. Rather, it is a gift, and any effort goes into accepting and securing it. The parable of the Pearl makes this even more clear. Liquidating your pearl trade in order to purchase one magnificent example doesn’t make business sense. Rather, it illustrates the importance of the kingdom of God. If you are called, liquidate everything in response. It is the one good.

It is here that the story of Solomon comes into the picture. If you commit your effort to God’s wise plan, the rest will follow.

As for the parable of the Net, it doesn’t receive the same firm emphasis in today’s liturgy. In fact, the alternative Gospel reading available for today even omits it. It repeats much of the message of last week’s parable of the Weeds and Wheat, but the emphasis is on the universal call, and the subsequent selection.

There is a end note, however, that aligns with the larger message for today. When Jesus finishes the parables, he asks the disciples if they understood. When they say “Yes,” he concludes with a final saying.

“Then every scribe who has been in­structed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”

Another treasure.

For reflection: A society that treasures property often asks its members to put its faith in a subordinate place, not getting in the way of cultural priorities. That makes the message of today troublesome.

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.