We are again presented with parables containing images of God’s reign. Is it a hidden treasure to be discovered? Is it a precious pearl to be sought after? Or is it simply like a bucket of fish? When asked if they understood these things, the disciples answered that they did. Any of us who have taught know what it’s like to put this question after a lesson, “Do you understand?” Many times students respond that they do, but then the test shows that they really hadn’t a clue. Many times we do not know what it is we do not understand, or simply that we do not understand.
We are presented here with a mishmash of images, all taken from the familiar. Buried treasure was common. People hid their precious belongings when they feared invasion or exile in the hopes that when peaceful times returned they would find it again. It is possible that the merchant sank everything into the one valuable pearl, knowing that it could be hidden easily or taken on a journey, and it would pay dividends later. Then there is the full net and the bucket of fish, a very familiar reality in the lives of the people of Jesus’ time. There is in fact an image and a message to suit many walks of life.
However, we can also put these three stories together to form a unit. We start with the bucket of fish. That’s the desired place to end up. We might have expected the kingdom to be portrayed in a little more exotic manner. But Jesus drew images from real life, and colored them with his own sense of humor.
Now in order to end up in the bucket one must pursue the reign of God with great zeal, like the one who found the treasure and the one who found the pearl. Perhaps the treasure finder was looking for buried treasure or came on it by chance. The merchant was actively seeking the pearl of great value. Both recognized the moment when they had found their treasure, and both sacrificed everything in order to attain it.
Jesus found the reign of God and gave everything for it. We can look through history, past and present, and find endless examples of those who embraced God’s reign with great zeal and enthusiasm and were totally committed to it. Such commitment necessitates the shedding of the old skins of self and self-righteousness. The price tag of such commitment is high. The parables remind us that it says ‘everything’. That includes embracing God’s reign in the bucket of fish, where it’s clammy and uncomfortable and rather crowded. But each one there is joyous, for they have given all for the reign of God.
Before I ask myself what have I given for the reign of God, I have to deal with a more fundamental question: Have I even found the treasure?
If Jesus should ask us ‘do you understand all this?’ we would be well to answer ‘no’. Our brother Thomas reminds us, “If you have understood, then it is not God.”
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP