Thoughts for Sunday 19th Aug

From David Clitheroe

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which someone found and hid: Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Matt. 13 v 44

Chapter 13 of Matthews Gospel is peppered with parables; The Sower; The wheat and the tares; the mustard seed; the hidden treasure; the yeast in the dough; the pearl of great price. Even if we do not attend church or read scripture regularly we are likely to know these stories for they have become part of the richness of our language and literature. But do we know as well the conversation and teaching in which they are set in this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel?

We think of Jesus parables as challenging but pretty straight forward. Yet his disciples had to ask him why he used this form of teaching and to explain the parable of the Sower to them. Are they as straight forward as they look?

Jesus was using a very old form of teaching within the Jewish scriptures. Behind Matthew’s use of the word parable is the Hebrew word mashal.  In Ezekiel 17.2 the prophet is instructed by God, “Son of man propound a riddle and speak a parable [mashal] to the house of Israel.” What follows is an allegory which has to be explained to the people. The mashal is like a riddle, it is to provoke thoughts in many directions not just to tell a simple story.

Jesus’ disciples asked him why he used this form of words. Jesus defines a parable by quoting Psalm 78:2, equating parables with hidden things. He answers his disciples’ questions by saying, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not be given…The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive and hearing they do not listen.’ [v 11-13] Being with Jesus opens up the Kingdom in a way that makes parables clear. Although the disciples were sometimes as puzzled as everyone else.

So, what of the buried treasure in the field? R S Thomas in his poem The Bright Field reflects on this parable.  He imagines seeing the sun on a field in the landscape, noticing it and hurrying on, only to realise later that that was the treasure he sought and that he would give everything he has for it. Stood with Jesus his disciples knew God. They were in the Bright Field.

Sometimes I catch myself in that field, with Jesus telling parables; with Jesus healing those in need; with the disciples in the garden at Gethsemane; with the women at the foot of the cross; with Mary spotting the gardener on Easter morning; with Thomas in the upper room and I know that what is in that moment is worth everything that I have.

David Clitheroe