“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
(Jesus the Christ, Matt 13:44, NASU)
Years ago, I saw an edition of the Antiques Road Show that made a serious impact on me. Though I have searched, I have never found it again, online or elsewhere. It was a long time back and I only saw it once, so if I ever do find it, I am intrigued to see how closely my memory of it fits with the actual event. In any case, here is how I remember it:
The episode cut to a woman standing on one side of a table and a man on the other side. On the little table was a medium size wooden square ornately carved. As usual, the man spoke, “So, tell us what it is that you have brought in for us today…” My memory is that this Show was being hosted in New York, and the woman had what a Texan would call a “stereotypical” New York attitude. I remember her saying something like “Well, this old thing has been up in my attic for years, and I don’t even remember where it came from, and it was too heavy to carry, so I put it in a trash bag and dragged it out to the curb, put it in the trunk and drove down here, and had to park forever away, so I dragged it down the sidewalk and here it is. What is it?”
The expert goes on to explain that the box is actually a compass from a sailing vessel. When seen from above, the compass floats in a water chamber and is mounted on multiple arms that allow the compass to stay horizontal and true even in rough seas. As I recall, some of the markings indicated that this compass had been made for an 18th century French sailing ship. Apparently, this ship had sailed out one day and never returned, and has still never been found. The expert compared it to the French version of the Titanic. “Until today, there have been no artifacts from that ship in existence.” The expert assumed that the compass was being made for the ship, or perhaps taken off to be repaired when the ship sailed for its final voyage.
He then goes on to point out further markings on the compass that indicated that it the ornate carving had been done by a well-known sculptor from that era. Because his medium was wood, not many of his works had survived well, and no one had known (until today) that he also did work on tools like ship’s compasses. In the end, the expert said that he was unsure what the compass would take in an auction – “presumably hundreds of thousands, maybe more.” But for the sake of the show, he declared it “priceless.”
Now, do you think that the woman put it back in the trash bag and dragged it out to her car? No. She had an armored car take it under guard to a vault. Ok, then ask yourself this: how valuable was that compass all those years sitting up in her attic gathering dust? Stop, and answer to yourself.
While you think, consider that parable that I noted at the beginning of the article. Jesus talks about a man who is checking out a field, but finds a treasure. He goes home and “in great joy” sells all that he has so that he can purchase a field in order to get the treasure. What struck me is that there are actually two men in the story. The first one buys the land (and thus treasure), but there is also the man who sold the land. Basically, this parable is about someone who gets taken! This is someone who sells a $10,000 comic book on Ebay for $5. Why would anyone do something as foolish as to sell a treasure for the price of a field? My assumption? He didn’t know the treasure was there; he was so ignorant of the property that was his, that he was unaware that all along he had owned a treasure. How many years did that man own treasure without knowing it? Think about this application… How many of us have a parent, early boyfriend or girlfriend, or someone else – an “original owner” so to speak – who treated us like something less than a treasure?
Let me comment on interpretation of this parable. Generally, we often treat this series of parables (lost coin, pearl of great price, etc.) like this: The Kingdom is the treasure and we should sell everything to get. This is certainly an accurate application, but I am sure it is what Jesus intended. Consider the one parable like this that is clear: the lost sheep. Certainly in the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus is not the lost sheep that we must risk everything to go retrieve; we are the lost sheep and He is the shepherd. What if this is the key for interpreting the others? If so, then we are the lost thing – coin, or treasure. After all, who paid the great price in our relationship with God? He did. He bought us with a price.
Now, God has come along, so to speak, and He is flawless at seeing treasures that others miss. We, on the other hand are pretty terrible at this skill, regularly misattributing or disvaluing something very precious. We are His treasure, designed and created by Him, and purchased by Him. He is the expert who sees His signature on us, so He has redeemed us – bought us with a price. The Holy, Cosmic and Eternal Artist/Appraiser has apparently declared us as His treasure (this is because of who He is, of course, not because we are somehow so shiny all on our own). When God declares something as so, it is so. Anyone who does not recognize us as treasure, places themselves in opposition with God; if we don’t accept it in ourselves or others, then we are in opposition with God’s opinion. Until we accept the truth of who and what God says we are (check out Eph 2:10), we are living in ignorance too.
The answer is that the compass was worth exactly as much in the attic as it was on the expert’s table. Nothing changed about the treasure that day; what changed was the level of ignorance the woman lived under. Once she accepted that she had a treasure, she began to treat it like a treasure, not trash. Our parents might not understand treasure – they might have walked away, or they may have tried to smash us; our spouses might not believe that we are treasure – they may not even know treasure at all; our past relationships may have thrown us in the trash bags and dragged us to the curb. God claims us as His… His children (Romans 8), His bride (Eph 5), His poema (Greek for “workmanship” in Eph 2:10), His people (1 Peter 2). We struggle because we are still hopeful that certain people will suddenly see us as treasure, or even worse, we want to perform like crazy and earn this kind of regard, or worse even, we think we have performed so well that we have earned it. Cease your struggles, let not your heart be troubled… we have, by God’s grace, been bestowed the status of treasure. Stop trying to make it true; instead rest here as we learn to live according to this truth.