25. Treasure Hid in a Field
At a recent retreat, we were able to devote a great deal of time to a study at depth of some of our Lord's parables of the kingdom of heaven. One which struck me rather powerfully was the parable of the treasure hid in a field. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field, the which, when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field." (Matthew 13:44)
We divided into small groups, to consider the parable. First, the obvious literal meaning of the story. What would the treasure be? Some said, "oil." Some, "gold, or diamonds." One suggested it might have been a robber's hoard: the robber had been caught and executed, and here was his pile of loot, lying perhaps for years, until some lucky fellow happened upon it. The finder is cunning; he does not inform the owner of the field that there is unsuspected wealth lying in his property. He covers it up; doesn't let on about it to a soul. Instead, he buys the field at the lowest possible price (probably telling the owner that it is worthless anyway); then, having obtained title to the land, he pockets the treasure!
Now, our group, particularly one member of it, was quite upset by the story. It was pretty sneaky for that man, having discovered the treasure, to hide it away again and pretend it wasn't there, so as to get the field at a low price! Maybe that is the way people act in business; such underhand methods are accepted as part of worldly prudence. But for Jesus to advocate it, and to say "The kingdom of heaven is like that" . . . well, it stuck in her throat. "Why did he hide the treasure again?" she kept asking. "Why didn't he open it up, and show it to the original owner of the field, and simply claim a share of it as `finder's rights'? Wouldn't that have been more honest?" And I couldn't answer her!
But, as we began to consider the inner meaning of the parable, the point seemed to disturb her less and less, till in the end she admitted she had got right over her problem. Because Jesus was not talking in terms of oil, or gold or diamonds, or a robber's hoard. He was speaking of spiritual treasure: heavenly joy; the peace and sweetness of loving relationships with other people; faith and trust in God. We were all created as potential angels, and the wealth of heaven lies deeply buried in some remote region of our heart which we do not normally occupy. One day, when we happen to be going that way (reading some book, perhaps, or meditating deeply on our human destiny) we suddenly sense the presence of those valuable heavenly qualities, lying buried within us. Previously we had been completely unaware of them, but now, owing to our having reached a certain stage in our spiritual development, we sense heaven within us and recognize our potential qualities and the riches God has implanted in us. But wait! We cannot claim possession of that treasure as yet, for this whole area of our mind is alien to us, we have not obtained dominion over it, or made it our own. First of all we must "occupy" this area wherein the treasure lies; we must make it our own by exchange, or spiritual trade.
Please note that nobody else is really involved in this. Jesus said the man sold all he possessed in order to buy the field; but such transactions, on the spiritual plane, do not necessarily concern other people. Spiritual trade consists in exchanging something of inferior quality for something of superior quality. The reformed drunkard has exchanged the questionable pleasures of drunkenness for the true satisfaction of sobriety. Someone else trades his hurt pride for the freedom of not taking himself so seriously - he lets his pride go, and in exchange can sleep at nights. In each case of profitable trade, we have relinquished something of the lower self for something of the higher. It is a process which ends in the purchasing of one's soul. "What shall it profit a man," says Jesus, "if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul? What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" We can think of the soul in this sense, as being that part of us in which the treasure is hidden. At first we know little of it; it is somehow alien to us, beyond the bounds of our normal working lives, outside our ego. When we first go wandering there, it hardly seems our own!
It all works out somewhat like this. During most of the early years of our lives, we are engaged in developing our ego. This is perfectly in order. The ego is ourself - our separate identity, that which distinguishes us from other people and from God. If we didn't have an ego, God couldn't love us. That is why He created our ego. And the ego must be fully grown and mature before our spiritual development can begin. We must first be able to stand on our own feet. This is what we learn to do when we leave our father and mother and strike out on our own. We get a job, we amass possessions; we buy a car and a house, and start a family. Also, we achieve a certain status in the society in which we live; we acquire reputation and honor. People think well of us, they respect us. This is perfectly all right - up to a point. In my own life history I worked hard to achieve a certain standing in the ministry. I wanted people to think of me as a good preacher, a good writer, and so on. I was pleased when I got on influential committees, and disappointed when someone else was chosen in front of me. Till all of a sudden it dawned on me that this status, this worldly importance, didn't mean a thing! When I die, an obituary notice will be put in our church periodicals. It will be very much the same as all the other obituary notices of all the other ministers who have passed on. It will be highly laudatory, as they all are. Then I shall be forgotten, as all the others have been, and a new generation of ministers will serve a new generation of people. I shall be in the spiritual world, where you will be also, and we shall have forgotten all about our little triumphs and achievements, and all that makes us feel important today. In fact, if our worldly achievements and triumphs and our worldly possessions are all we ever had to our name, we should be poor indeed in the future life, having left all these behind! The "rich" in the other world will be those who followed our Lord's admonition: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth . . . but lay up for yourself treasure in heaven." When Jesus said to the rich young ruler: "Sell all you have, and give to the poor, and come, follow me," He was thinking of the need of the rich young man to divest himself of the burden of things, and of worldly dignity and importance, and perhaps of self-righteousness, which showed itself in his complacent remark: "All these laws have I observed from my youth up." He had great possessions, no doubt; but he does not seem to have walked very often in that area where he was when he spoke to Jesus and asked how he could inherit eternal life. At any rate he does not seem to have noticed the treasure hidden there, or he would most certainly have gone with joy and sold all that he had and bought that field!
I think it is true to say we cannot own that field where the treasure lies hidden, and at the same time a lot of worldly junk. Hence the need for divestment or exchange, which, as we have seen, is spiritual trade. It is all a matter of the order of our priorities, what we value most. However, it is not necessary for us to make a big fuss of stepping down. You don't have to make a public statement: "Look at me, everybody! I am renouncing the world; I am resigning from all my positions of honor." Nothing dramatic is required. What happens is simply that you find yourself thinking: "This worldly honor and status, the high opinion people have of me and that I have of myself, such achievements as I have made . . . these are meaning less and less to me. All I really want now is a sense of the Lord's presence with me, and a loving relationship with other people."
Suppose you work for some cause, and expect recognition, but somebody else gets the credit that should have come to you. Your first reaction is to feel hurt, and shout out, and draw attention to yourself. But is it worthwhile? Do you need that bit of ego-food at your present stage of development? Surely not! Think: Perhaps that other fellow does need it! Say to yourself: "I'm glad he got the kudos, because it will help build up his confidence and self-esteem, in which he is weak at the moment; I don't really need it and I can afford to let him have it." That is the kind of thing that could be meant by "giving to the poor" - feeding the ego of someone who needs it, who is starving, whereas you are adequately fed.
Ego-food is like any other kind of food; you need the right amount. If you have too little, you wilt away and die; if you have too much, you are sick. Just think for a moment: Do you have enough for your spiritual health? Do you have enough praise and support to satisfy your basic needs - enough success and achievement? If so, why bother to try to get more? More than enough won't make you any happier! You have reached the point when you should begin to relinquish any further desire for worldly applause or power or any other kind of ego-food, and start searching instead for the heavenly manna - food for the potential angel growing within you. For, "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his soul?" - if he makes an outstanding success of the temporal, but loses the eternal?
Another thing I want to say about the treasure hid in the field: we didn't put it there! It is a free gift to him that owns the field. It is not for sale, we cannot assess its value and purchase it. We can argue about the value of the field and eventually buy the field; but the treasure comes "without money and without price." This is absolutely basic to all our Lord's teaching about the Kingdom. "It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom," provided you do the necessary preparation. You must "ask, seek, knock," and you must recognize its value when you find it, and you must accept it as a gift. On this point our so-called Protestant Ethic goes badly astray. We are told that we cannot attain to any spiritual grace unless we work hard for it; but that is a contradiction of terms! "Grace" is something good and desirable that comes to us as a free gift from God, without our having to earn it. Here we touch the main difference between the Old Testament and the New, between the LAW and GRACE. Worldly prosperity has to be earned; ego-food has to be earned or it doesn't satisfy us; but the true spiritual treasure is given us by the Lord without any bargaining, as a loving Father gives gifts to his children. Obviously we have got to do our part by accepting and receiving it, and we don't even see it until we are in some sort of harmony with the Giver of all good gifts. We must obtain possession of the field where the treasure is, yes. We must pay the full price for the field, but only for the field. The treasure is not included in the inventory; it is pure grace.
Let us assume, now, that the man or woman of whom we are speaking (maybe you, maybe me) has taken possession of the field. Eureka! The Treasure is ours! We start digging it out and examining it. There is more and more of it. No end to it. But it is not all of equal value; some of it, we feel, might be exchanged for something even better - not, of course, on the worldly plane, but on the spiritual. (There are value-priorities on the spiritual level, just as there are on the material). And so Jesus followed this parable of the Treasure Hid in the Field with another parable, concerning the Pearl of Great Price. This has the same general meaning, but it carries the principle further. First you must sell all worldly possessions in exchange for your soul, and then you must begin to perfect your soul, relinquishing what is of lesser value in exchange for what is of supreme value - the Lord Himself. "The Kingdom of heaven," says Jesus, "is like unto a merchant man seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it." (Matthew 13:45, 46) Think about this for a few moments in relation to yourself. At what stage are you in your spiritual Pilgrim's Progress? Have you taken possession of the Field that is your soul? Are you living a heavenly life, according to the Laws of the Kingdom?
Meditate on the treasure the Lord has given to you. Can you name any of the pearls that He has given you specifically? Try to identify five, ten, twenty specific pearls. I think you will discover that the center and focus of all your inner wealth is the Lord Himself and His great love for you. Have you yet reached the stage when you can gladly relinquish everything for that One Pearl of Great Price?