Comparing and Contrasting Parables1
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
- Matthew 13:44-46
In this week’s passage, Jesus tells two parables in rapid-fire succession. Jewish teachers often used this rhythm: sharing an idea and then repeating/remixing the idea to help listeners gain deeper understanding of the original idea. This practices is seen most clearly in the Psalms and in Proverbs.
What do these two parables have in common?
They are both about the kingdom of heaven. They both contain something that’s of great value (a hidden treasure, a pearl). In both parables the main character has enough wealth to acquire the thing that’s of great value but must sell everything. Both characters experience joy or satisfaction.
The kingdom of heaven is valuable, costly, and worth it.
How do these two parables differ from each other?
In one the kingdom is compared to an object (the hidden treasure) and in the other the kingdom is compared to a man (the pearl-seeking merchant). In one the man is actively seeking the object of great value and in the other the man just seems to stumble across it. In one the man gets a great (albeit sneaky) deal while in the other there’s no implication of there being a bargain.
Perhaps the kingdom of heaven is too complex to be pinned down by one simile, one metaphor, or one parable. It involves both people and stuff. It’s available to both seekers and stumblers. It comes crashing into our real world of shady deals and costly transactions.
Great engagement with the scriptures begins with good observation of the text. As you read these parables, what stands out to you?