Most Christians who are at all familiar with the Bible know that Jesus did a lot of his teaching through using parables, small stories that unveil big truths. Eleven of his parables are recorded in the first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. Of these eleven, seven are found in one chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 13. In fact, the whole point of this chapter seems to be to explain why and how Jesus taught in parables.
As Matthew presents it, the whole purpose of parables is to reveal a truth while hiding it. What? That’s contradictory. Let’s hear Jesus’ explanation:
The disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand’ . . . But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:10-13, 16-17)
Parables are deceptively simple stories based on things that happen to people in everyday life. Yet Jesus tells them in a way that they become the vehicles of deep, profound truths that a casual reader will miss. As he told these stories, those who were spiritually ready got the deeper message, while others just heard a cute or clever story.
I encourage you to read all the parables in this chapter, but I want to focus on just three — the three that are only found in Matthew’s Gospel and are not recorded anywhere else. Matthew seems to have picked these three out and clustered them together to teach Jesus’ followers a particular lesson. I believe the lesson they teach is HOW TO FOCUS ON THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN LIFE. Here they are:
“The Treasure Hidden in a Field” – 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 (verse 44).
“The Pearl of Great Price” – The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (verses 45-46).
“The Draw-Net” – The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad (verses 47-48).
Each of these parables is about something of value and how Jesus’ followers can embrace and possess it. However, they show three different strategies:
- In the first, the Treasure is recognized, then hidden away so no one else can find it and steal it.
- In the second, the Pearl is openly acknowledged, not hidden, but it is purchased, whatever the cost.
- In the third, the Draw-Net contains valuable food-fish, mingled with a lot of throwaway items, and patience is the way to acquire what’s worthwhile.
The first strategy can be summarized as Select, Isolate, Retrieve.
The second can be summarized as Select, Prioritize, Retrieve.
The third can be summarized as Retrieve, Isolate, Select.
Through these three parables, Jesus is telling his followers that one of their major life-tasks is to learn to focus on what is valuable during the fleeting moments of their earthly existence. In every individual case, we’ll have to figure out the best strategy for doing that, and we’ll need his guidance and wisdom to figure out how to do this.
Jesus ends this series of parables by saying:
Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore everyone who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (verses 51-52).
Start your post-Easter Resurrection journey by embracing the things of greatest spiritual value, as Jesus reveals them to you. Some may be old and some brand new, but they are all treasures, pearls and life-giving food from him.
– Pastor George Van Alstine