Feast of the Holy Prophet Micah
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. ~Matthew 13:44
Our minds rush to the treasure. Who wouldn’t like to discover treasure buried in a field, in a wall, in a sunken galley carrying Spanish gold? It would be our passport to the happiness and fulfillment we so long for. But what is the treasure in this field? As we peer into the shaft, we see that it is neither gold nor silver. It is something harder to define. Origen says it could be Christ or the wisdom hidden in the Scriptures. St. Gregory the Great says the treasure is heavenly delight. But the beauty of this treasure is beyond a simple glance and easy possession. The vision is not easy to mine.
But having glimpsed it, the finder is completely captivated by it. He covers it up. Why? Our first thought might be that he hides it in order to lowball the price of the field. But St. Gregory the Great says he hides it to protect it from attack by evil spirits who seek to derail any who attempt to reach the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps the tender vision needs protection from the scorn of others who would kill it in the bud. Origen says it is unwise to reveal this hidden wisdom to everyone.
In any event, the finder cannot simply pluck the treasure out of the field and make off with it. Instead, he must buy the field—not the treasure directly—and it costs literally everything he has. And then some.
Because possession of the field is just the beginning of the heavy labor of extracting the treasure. St. Hilary of Poitiers says, “the power to use and to own this treasure with the field, comes at a price, for heavenly treasures are not purchased without a worldly loss.” And St. Gregory the Great says, “the field in which the treasure is hidden is the discipline of the pursuit of heaven.” Whether the field is a poor, inhospitable site or green and fertile, reaching the treasure requires a lifetime of steadfast faithfulness, years of prayer, study and service. Transformation in Christ is a long, gradual, often painful, process. Its path is strewn with rocks and roots upon which we stumble: the dirty diapers and difficulties that fill our days, the cataclysms of history and the small daily dying to self. The field and its struggles are chosen for each person by God Himself and, if we are willing to give all, prepares us for the full possession of a treasure we had only glimpsed when we set out to buy it and which ultimately surpasses our most sublime hopes.
Jeri Holladay writes from Wichita, Kansas where she has been Associate Professor of Theology, Chairman of the Theology Department, founding Director of the Bishop Eugene Gerber Institute of Catholic Studies at Newman University and Director of Adult Education at the Spiritual Life Center of the Diocese of Wichita. She has also served on Eighth Day Institute’s Board of Directors.