Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price, by Father Basil William Maturin

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it. – Matthew 13:44-46

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The two following Parables – the Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price – were not, like those which precede them, spoken to the multitude. After the Parable of the Leaven, our Lord ‘sent the multitude away and went into the house,’ (Matthew 13:36) there the disciples came to Him and there He taught them these two Parables.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not merely a general thing, it is also an individual and personal thing. It is not merely a tree overshadowing the earth, or Leaven leavening the world, it is a thing which a man must lay hold of and appropriate and make his own. He may, indeed, dwell in the field where the good seed is growing, or rest under the shadow of the great tree, or watch the heavy mass seething and quickened under the action of the Leaven, and so in a certain vague sense share in the benefits of the Kingdom of Heaven, as many do, living in a Christian society; but this is very far from being enough; none receive the essential gifts of the Kingdom of Heaven till they have personally appropriated its benefits. And these two Parables give us the history of this personal experience.

They describe under two entirely different images this same event – the individual soul coming into personal relationship with the great Gift of God to man.

In each case there is this in common – a discovery. They both see what they had never seen before, and neither of them, having once seen it, could rest till he had made what he had seen his own, though it cost him ‘all that he had.’ The thing that each discovered was not new, it was in the world long before either of them had seen it or even dreamed of it; but it was to them a discovery. They saw, they touched, and finally they possessed what was to them an altogether new thing. Henceforth that discovery changed their whole lives; it was more to them than all else they possessed. All that they had ever gained by past toil they sold to purchase this newly found Treasure.

Such is our Lord’s description of the individual apprehension of the gifts of that great Kingdom which He came to found upon earth. Men live in contact with it, feel and see its influences, understand its organization, watch the work it does, measure its effects upon the world and upon society, read its history, are in daily intercourse with those whose lives are wholly formed and governed by its power, and yet – have never really seen it, have never come into any personal relationship with it Then their eyes are opened, somehow they see it. It is a reality, a wondrous reality, more real, indeed, than anything else – the one reality in life. There it was before, under their very eyes, but it was hidden; so far as they were concerned it did not exist, it was nothing to them, ‘their eyes were holden that they should not know it;’ (Luke 24:16) now they cannot rest till they have made it all their own; ‘their eyes were opened and they know it.’ (Luke 24:31)

They have come in contact with, have seen the supernatural, and that is an event which they will never be able altogether to forget or deny; a positive fact which, for reality, stands alone in their experience and which nothing will be able really to obscure. How strange that men should be constantly discussing and living in the midst of that which, for all practical purposes, they do not see. What an event that is when their eyes are opened and they find the Hid Treasure, the Pearl of Great Price. And this is an experience that is of almost daily occurrence. ‘The kingdom of heaven is like unto a 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,’ and it ‘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.’

Almost daily someone stumbles, as it seems, across that Hidden Treasure and gives up everything to possess it; almost daily some one in search of goodly pearls finds the One for which he is ready to sell all he has that he may buy it Is it not most true that there are many people who belong to the Church, and take much interest in Her work and development, receive the sacraments and are regular in their religious duties and take keen interest in the religious controversies of the day, who have never yet seen in the field of the Church the Hid Treasure? And then something happens; they pass through some experience – illness, trouble, great temptation, perhaps – and their eyes are opened, they see beneath the surface. Their interest, their activity, had been about the field, now they see for the first time the Treasure hid in the field; they learn in a moment the reality, the only thing that makes the field worth possessing. There it lies, that Treasure hid so long, now exposed, as it seems, by some chance to their view – they see it, they may possess it At once the whole attitude of mind undergoes a change. This field becomes a matter of directly personal interest; they see in it now a new worth. This is the secret why all that concerns it has a strange fascination, – it has a value far greater than those who are busiest in its concerns are aware of; there is a hidden mystery. And when that mystery is revealed, one after another of those whose eyes are opened to see it give up all else for it. It is no longer one interest out of many, it is the one for which all else is abandoned.

Such is our Lord’s description of the intimate and personal relationship which the individual soul must have to that vast Kingdom which spreads throughout the world, having its own organization and life, and which is in its appearance so impersonal. Like any other great organization it can awaken interest and create enthusiasm amongst its members, it can draw multitudes to devote themselves to the cause which it has at heart Yes, in all this it may act only as any other kingdom of this world can act. But if this is all, it is practically nothing – it must do more. The individual soul must find in this Kingdom the Treasure hid, as in a field, which becomes his own personal possession. The eye must be opened to see the inner glory which makes it precious even to its outermost skirts. To get possession of that gift which the Church has to give, the soul is ready to sell all that it has.

So too, the Merchant Man, seeking goodly pearls, sees at last One before which all the others look poor and mean. In the course of his search, he comes across it, and all that he has ever had looks worthless. One glimpse of that priceless Pearl kills all his interest and pride in what he already possessed, all that he had spent his life in collecting is seen in a moment to be of little worth compared to this; they appeared to him of value till he saw what was of real value. Seen in the lustre of this priceless Pearl they look worthless and poor. He cannot rest till he makes it his own.

But while these two Parables agree in thus bringing out the idea of the soul’s awakening to a personal realization of what it had never perceived before, and the readiness to make great sacrifices to possess itself of the newly found Treasure; in all the rest they are in striking contrast

In the one case there is a long search; the Merchant Man finds at last what he had spent most of his life in seeking for. He had been ever on the look out for goodly pearls, seeking the most valuable he could find, and ready ever to exchange the less precious for the more precious.

In the other case, the man stumbles across the Treasure without any search or trouble on his part; the plough or spade strikes upon it while he is employed about something else, and, in a moment, it is laid bare to his view.

How strange it seems, yet how true to experience, that one who has always been in earnest, and has ever sought for the noblest and best things in life, should, only after a long search, at last succeed in finding it, while another seems to have the Treasure thrown in his way, without any effort or search on his part.

Yet it certainly is true. There are some to whom God gives in a moment what another only gains after a long lifetime of painful search. ‘I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.’ (Romans 10:20) Bartimaeus cried after Jesus, and spent the night in Jericho in search of Him, while He had gone unbidden to be the guest of Zacchaeus, the publican.

For the two Parables describe two different types of character. There are some who never can be content with the things of this life, who feel that there must be some absolute good for man, in which alone he can find the satisfaction of all his longings; they weary themselves with questions that never trouble others, life presents to them difficulties that stimulate them to seek for an answer. Often such men do not know God, yet long, with a passionate desire which makes all that life has to give dim and worthless in comparison, to know Him. They have, indeed, given up whatever of pleasure and rest worldly enjoyment could afford them to find the secret of their soul’s longing. Sometimes such men are to be found amongst the heathen, their one study, their only search is for God. Sometimes they are to be found amongst ourselves, often in various imperfect forms of Christianity, often professing themselves unable to accept any organized form of Christianity at all, but wherever they are met, they impress all who know them with the seriousness and earnestness of their character. They are like Merchant Men, seeking goodly pearls.

How strange it seems that God should leave such men in darkness, while He gives others who value it so much less, the light How strange, we sometimes feel, that so much of life should be wasted in the search for the truth, and spent often in various forms of error. But, surely, it is not waste; the Merchant Man in search of goodly pearls is ever learning to understand their value. His touch, his eye is getting practiced; he is becoming quicker in detecting the most valuable – all those years of search are a preparation. He has long learned to be ready to part with past purchases for new discoveries, his desire and appreciation are quickened, and at last, in the language of the Parable, ‘When he had found one Pearl of Great Price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.’

The language is very calm and simple, yet it discloses an heroic spirit It tells of a man who at sight of something of more worth than he had, was ready to give up the whole result of a life’s hard work. Surely no moment of such a life was wasted while he was possessing himself of the best he could find; the whole character was steadily bending in one way to fit him for the last great discovery – the last great sacrifice.

And Saint John tells us in the Apocalypse what that Pearl was of which the Merchant Man was in search. He says of the Heavenly City, whose foundations were garnished with all manner of precious stones, that ‘the twelve gates were twelve Pearls, every several gate was of one Pearl.’ (Revelation 21:21) He was seeking all unconsciously for the very Gate of Heaven.

And then there are others who have no such ambitions. The multitude who live in the present and do not look much beneath the surface; or those who, however great their capacity for better things, are nevertheless living for the things of earth. And so they would go on living did not God in His mercy lay bare to their eyes the Treasure hid in the field. They spend their time in planting and reaping what grows upon the surface of their nature, while deep down beneath lie the true riches, the Hid Treasure. And then it may be the plough of the Cross lays it bare and the soul looks within and sees the priceless Treasure so long hidden and unused.

And the contrast between this Parable and the other is striking. In the former, ‘when he had found one Pearl of Great Price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it.’ It seems as though the finding were the necessary end of that long search, and there is the calm and strong resolve to possess it at all costs. But in this Parable the discovery is all unexpected, unprepared for, and the man is filled with joy. It is in the strength of that joy that the finder of the spiritual Treasure is enabled to part with everything besides. There is no compulsion, no command, ‘for joy thereof he cannot do otherwise* All other things have now no ‘glory by reason of the glory which excelleth.’ (2 Corinthians 3:10)

Amongst many others, one describes the truth of this Parable from his own experience. Saint Augustine, telling of the crisis of his own conversion, describes how easy it became, having found the Treasure, to give up all which he had long dreaded to give up, through this joy. ‘How sweet did it at once become to me to want the sweetness of those toys, and what I feared to be parted from was now a joy to part with. For Thou didst cast them forth from me, Thou highest sweetness. Thou casted them forth and for them entered in Thyself, sweeter than all pleasure.’ He parted with these sinful delights; he went and sold all that he had, that he might buy the field.

However great the contrast in other points, both Parables are alike in this, that the field which holds the Treasure, and the Pearl, can only be purchased at a great price. The words in both cases are the same: ‘he went and sold all that he had to buy it.’ It was a great exchange; a new possession purchased at the price of everything they possessed already. Our Lord would not have us suppose that the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven can be gained easily. Those whose eyes have been opened to see it know this well. But they realize its value, and one, filled with joy at the sight of it, the other, compelled by an overwhelming conviction which was the outcome of a long experience, are ready to sell all that they have that they may enter into the personal possession of its riches.

If we are not prepared to pay the price we must not complain that we do not enjoy its blessings. If we, too, have been permitted to get a momentary glimpse of all that the Kingdom of Heaven may be to us and may give to us, and then shrink from the price of the purchase, we must not be surprised if we never are partakers of its full joys. The remedy for such dissatisfaction lies in our own hands; if we pay the price we shall become possessors of all that it has to give. The terms are laid down for us in the Parable – All for all. If we sell all that we have to buy it, we shall become full possessors of its infinite and eternal blessings.

Many persons sacrifice the full enjoyment of the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of Heaven, they have had their vision of that other Kingdom, and consequently cannot settle down to this world as their home, but they cannot make up their minds to pay the heavy price which is the condition of the possession of the Heavenly Kingdom, and so they are unhappy in the world, for the thought of that other vision haunts them, and they are unhappy in their religion, for they have never been able to possess themselves of its blessings. But the remedy is at hand, there can be but one remedy now; there never can be the old easy-going enjoyment of life; its spell has been broken, they have caught a glimpse of that other glory which excelleth. Let them go, sell all that they possess, sooner or later they must leave it, now they can use it, let them use it as the purchase money to possess themselves of that Kingdom that passeth not away; a Kingdom ‘that hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.’ (Hebrews 11:10)