Parables of Christ Part VIII: the Hidden Treasure and Leaven
by Fr. James B. Buckley, FSSP
From the July, 2011 Newsletter
The expression “kingdom of heaven” is used by Saint Matthew 33 times; and the expression “kingdom of God” is used 32 times by Saint Luke, 14 times by Saint Mark, and twice by Saint John. According to the renowned biblical scholar, Father Ferdinand Prat, S.J., these expressions are synonymous. This becomes obvious by comparing Matthew 13:11 (“To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven…”) with Mark 4:11 (“To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God…”) and Luke 8:10 (“To you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God…”). It is the opinion of Father Joachim Salaverri, S.J., an expert on Fundamental Theology, that “kingdom of heaven” was used by Matthew because his Gospel was written for the Jews who were “accustomed to refrain from professing the unutterable name of God and substituted heaven for it” (BAC Sacrae Theologiae Vol. I, p. 516). In the other Gospels, written for the Gentiles who were unfamiliar with Jewish tradition, “kingdom of God” would be more easily understood.
Both expressions refer to the universal kingdom announced in the Old Testament and established by Christ in the New.
Among the many Old Testament passages which proclaim that the Gentiles would also enter into God’s kingdom, the following are illustrative: Isaias 2:2 (“And in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of the mountain, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and all nations shall flow into it”); Psalm 71:11 (And all the kings of the earth shall adore him; all nations shall serve him”); and Malachias 1:11 (“For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every
place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts”).
Matthew says that after John baptized Him, “Jesus began to preach and to say: Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17). Recording the same incident, Mark writes: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying: The time is accomplished and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the gospel” (1:14–15).
It is the kingdom of God or certain aspects of it that Christ explains in His parables. In the parables of the dragnet and of the wheat and the cockle, for example, He reveals that the kingdom of God exists both in this world and in the next. In this world it comprises both the good and the bad, but in the next life it will consist only of the just.
Our Lord further compared the kingdom of God to the mustard seed which was the smallest seed in any Palestinian garden but which grew in a short time to tower above all the other vegetable plants. It was in a very short time that the kingdom of God built on the apostles spread throughout the Roman Empire. Those Jews who converted to Christ after hearing Peter’s Pentecost sermon, for example, were “Parthians, Medes and Elamites.” They lived in “Mesopotamia, Judea and Capadocia, Pontus and the province of Asia, Phrygia and Pampylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya around Cyrene.” Some were “even visitors from Rome” (cf. Acts 2:9–10). With the conversion of the Roman centurion Cornelius, the
realization of a universal kingdom embracing Jews and Gentiles had begun.
A companion parable, that of the leaven, announces that by a mysterious hidden power, what is sown in men’s souls like a seed will transform them. As evidence of this transformation Eusebius of Caesaria (d. a.d. 341) writes in his Preparatio Evangelica: “…The Sythians no longer feed on human flesh because the message of Christ has penetrated their region; nor do other races of barbarians still defile themselves by incest with sisters and daughters; …nor do they pursue other pleasures of the body which violate the laws of nature; nor do they give the corpses of their neighbors to be eaten by dogs and birds, as they once did; nor do they make sacrificial offerings to the demons as if to gods, as was proscribed by their ancestors.”
Since the kingdom of God can endow men with supernatural virtue in this life and eternal happiness in the next, Our Lord compares it to a treasure hidden in a field and to a pearl of great price. As the man who found the treasure in the field sold all that he had to purchase it, so must we willingly and joyfully give up all things to possess the kingdom of God.
July 5, 2011