31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” . . .
44 ”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.
45 ”Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
Jesus’ longer parables are stories with characters, but these short ones are likenesses, little snapshots of the kingdom of God. The mustard seed likeness speaks of a dot-sized seed growing out of control into a huge bush, easily able to provide nesting room for many birds. Jesus is foretelling an astonishing growth in his movement, a sharp increase in the number of disciples, and this did happen, from the day that the Spirit was poured out, and steadily for hundreds of years afterward.
There are other ways that one could draw attention to the humble beginnings and surprising growth in the Jesus movement. It began with an independent teacher and a band of what we might call blue collar Jewish workers, many of them fishermen, and it grew, even within Jesus’ lifetime, to a few thousand followers, including some Greeks and Syrians (Matt 15:22; Mark 7:24–26; John 12:20).
The leaven parable looks similar at first, but turns out to be different in a very important way. It does talk about growth, but not in numbers, rather in effect. He says a few sprinkles of yeast, when worked into a large lump of dough, permeate the whole, causing it to rise when it is cooked. A little bit of powder causes a major rising effect on a large pile of dough.
In other words, a few believers can permeate society and elevate the spiritual level in the whole world. A similar metaphor would be that a few drops of tabasco sauce can heat up a large dish. But Jesus’ metaphor is better because of the image of rising, which suggests spiritual growth or progress. Do you see the focus on a changed outcome, the rising, as an important part of this parable? It means that a small number of people can have a huge effect, even leavening and affecting the whole of society.
The next two parables are a pair in meaning as well as structure. In both the Treasure in the Field and the Pearl of Great Price, a person discovers something that he must have. They recognize something of exceptional value. They have to sell all they have to get it. When we encounter treasure—such as the Gospel, or truth—we may have to agonize about whether the treasure is great enough that we should sell everything we have to get it. Treasure can be destabilizing. Treasure can force a massive change in our whole way of living.
Great treasure comes with great risk, at least to our comfortable and familiar routine. It may mean having to re-locate, or to learn something new, or to give up something old. It may mean having to depart from one social circle and enter another, or to no longer be defined by our social circle. Many people decide against treasure, or really against uncertainty, against risk.
Can you handle the adjustments that are necessary to obtaining treasure? What would help you through the transition? What is it that keeps you steady through times of change? Is it not a steadiness of spiritual vision, confidence in the fact that you are loved? So it takes a bit of already-possessed treasure, to get the new treasure.
So these two parables are about deciding to do what must be done to get what is most precious. That also means recognizing what is most valuable, and going for it wholeheartedly. The land-buyer and the pearl merchant do not hesitate; they know they need this treasure. There is a refreshing simplicity in these stories of someone going for great beauty or value without hesitation, like a collector who loves his subject.
If you really love pearls, you will do whatever it takes to obtain the world’s greatest pearl. If you really love truth, you will risk everything to get it. So—be a collector of truth, or of beauty, or of goodness. These are the qualities of divinity—that is, the qualities of God. One of these is bound to speak to you in particular.
These parables are about love of quality, devotion to value, which makes the decision a no-brainer. The kingdom of heaven is like the person who already has such a love of truth or beauty that he or she has no difficulty in deciding for it.
Your lifemay become more difficult; you may have to make some changes, but you will have that which you most treasure. You will know that you have made the right choice.
Be a wise collector, who is not easily fooled. Study that which you love, so that you can discern it clearly, even intuitively. Be a collector of truth, or of spiritual beauty, or of divine goodness. Settle for nothing less than a treasure that you can keep forever, and that will actually grow as you hold onto it.