44 “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. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Jesus didn’t waste words. And it is an article of faith for Christians that every word of the Bible is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Every word matters.
So why, in Matthew 13, would Jesus tell essentially the same story twice? There’s a treasure that’s worth so much to the one who finds it that he sells everything he has in order to obtain it.
We get it.
However, a deeper dive into the parable of the treasure in the field (Matthew 13:44) and the parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46) reveal some subtle differences that, for me anyway, change everything. Consider this:
First Difference: A What or a Who
In the first parable, the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure in a field. But in the second parable, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for pearls. It’s a thing in the first parable, but it’s a person in the second.
Second Difference: Accidentally finding or Intentionally Searching
In the parable of the treasure hidden in the field, you’ve got a tenant farmer stumbling across a treasure that someone else buried. It’s not something he’s been looking for, but he recognizes the value, so he sells everything he owns in order to buy the field, so he would have legal claim to the treasure.
But in the second parable, there is a pearl merchant who is looking for fine pearls. He is trained to see the value in a pearl. He knows what he is looking for. And when he finds one of great worth, he sells all he has.
Third Difference: “Goes and Sells” or “Went and Sold”
In the first parable, Jesus uses present tense language. It puts the listener in the moment, and creates a “What would you do if this happened to you” scenario. The lucky farmer goes, and sells, and buys. This is what you would expect to happen whenever someone found himself in this situation.
In the second parable, Jesus tells the story of something that happened once. A merchant who knew the value of pearls found one of incomparable worth. That doesn’t happen every day. So what did the merchant do? He went, he sold, and he bought. This isn’t just a quirk of the translator. There is a tense shift in the Greek as well.
What are we to make of this? Here’s what I see. This is my opinion, so I’m going to hold it with an open hand, but here goes:
In the first parable, I think Jesus is describing how every one of us finds salvation. We aren’t looking for it, because we are “dead in our transgressions” (Ephesians 2:1), and dead people aren’t capable of seeking anything. But then we stumble on a treasure that’s been prepared for us from the foundation of the world (Matthew 25:34). And even though we weren’t looking for it, and there’s nothing we did to earn it, so great a treasure demands a response. A re-evaluation of everything in life we consider valuable. And so we go, we sell everything we have, and we buy the field in order to obtain the treasure.
But in the second parable, I think Jesus is describing Himself. He is the merchant who is seeking fine pearls. He has come to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
This merchant knows the value of the pearl because He created it, as well as the oyster that produced it, the ocean that sustained the oyster; and even the grain of sand that irritated the oyster in the first place so that the pearl could be produced. He created it all.
And then, the merchant finds a pearl of great value. So great that in one, final, once and for all, never to be repeated action, the merchant went and sold all that he had in order to obtain it.
Sound familiar? The merchant so valued the pearl that he gave all that he had so the pearl could be purchased.
I think the pearl represents us. Fallen humanity, so broken, yet so beautiful and so valuable that Jesus would give His life to purchase it. All He had, so we could become all He is.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.John 3:16
So together, these two parables illustrate the gospel: that you are of such worth that Jesus, in a once and for all action, gave all He had to purchase you.
And the response to the gospel: that Jesus is of such worth to us that we daily, over and over, give all we have to make Him our own.