As in the case of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast, the parable of the hidden treasure and the pearl of great price are linked thematically. In the previous two sayings, the smallness and hiddenness of the Kingdom was the main point. In these two parables, the kingdom is hidden and ultimately valuable are the main idea. In each parable, something valuable is discovered, then the discover sells everything he has in order to purchase the item of great value.
Are these “insider parables”?
The final three parables in Matthew 13 are addressed only to the disciples, followed by Jesus asking his disciples if the disciples have understood “all these things” (13:51-52). In Matthew 11:25 Jesus thanks the Father because he has “hidden these things form the wise and revealed them to little children.” Matthew 12 is the decisive break with the Pharisees. It is not difficult to understand the “wise” as the Pharisees and teachers of the law and the “little children” as the disciples. The hidden things Jesus revealed to the disciples is the nature of the Kingdom of God, which is a mystery (Matthew 13) hidden from the religious teachers, aristocratic priests and other elites in Second Temple Judaism.
Most commentators draw a parallel between the hidden treasure and the pearl. But there is a contrast between the two seekers. One finds the treasure by accident; the other was searching for valuable pearls. Both find the treasure, and both sell everything in order to obtain it. If the point is merely “the kingdom is very valuable” then the parables say the same thing. The difference is the one who finds the kingdom; a difference which is present among Jesus’s disciples.
Hiding and Finding
It is not unusual for someone to hide treasure in the ground, especially prior to modern banking systems this was rather common (“stuffing money in your mattress”). There were no salvage laws with respect to finding treasure (basically “finders keepers,” see m. Baba Batra 4:8). Presumably the original owner of the field is not known, but the legality of the man’s actions is not really the point of the story.
Josephus reports that the Romans discovered all kinds of gold and silver buried by the Jews in anticipation of the invasion by Rome (JW 7.5.2). The Copper Scroll (3Q15) from Qumran lists a number of buried treasures although the scroll has never been deciphered and no actual treasure has been found.
In the wisdom literature there is a comparison drawn between finding wisdom and finding a hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:1-4; Sirach 20:30).
The man who finds the treasure sells everything he has to purchase the field. It is easy enough to get side-tracked on the legality of the action of the man in the story, but that is not the point. There is nothing in the Old Testament law that specifically deals with this situation, and given the fact that people buried their savings somewhat more commonly than today, it is possible that occasionally the situation being described could actually happen. Jesus is not commenting on the legally or morality of the action. The important thing is a hidden treasure has been found, one that is worth risking everything for.
Does re-hiding the hidden treasure mean anything? Some commentators have allegorized this part of the story to refer to the delay of the kingdom, but it is just part of the story, the “finder’s desperate effort to own the treasure” (Bailey, “The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and of the Pearl Merchant,” 179). The man sells all that he has “in his joy” and buys the field so that he can take possession of the hidden treasure.
What Does the Parable Teach?
The point is the Kingdom is so valuable it is worth “selling out” in every way in order to obtain the kingdom. The man was not looking for a treasure but found it unexpectedly. It is ironic that the Pharisees sought the treasure (the kingdom of God), but they have not found it because it is hidden in Jesus’s ministry.
The man in the parable is a disciple so Jesus who has left everything behind to follow Jesus (Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables, 279). The disciples have more or less done this already. They left their homes and families to follow Jesus. The encouragement to future generations of disciples is to realize the value of what they are seeking.
Another aspect of the mystery of the kingdom in the parable of the hidden treasure is that the kingdom is discovered. In this case it is discovered by one who is not seeking it. It comes suddenly, in a way that is not expected. There is not only a joy in the discovery, but the immediately realization that it is worth more than life itself.
For many of Jesus’s disciples, they found the kingdom even though they were not looking for it. They left their homes and family and have followed Jesus with total dedication. However, other disciples are equally dedicated to Jesus but were seeking the kingdom all along.