“The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys 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
The lesson and activity is based on the Parable of the Merchant in search of Fine Pearls. This lesson was originally taught as part of the immersive catechism class we attended at our Parish on October 7, 2021.
We are going to bring in the entire reading to include lines 44 through 46 of Matthew 13. Doing so allows for a richer understanding behind the parables pertaining to treasures. The parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl are often told together because the message is so similar. In both cases an item was considered so valuable to the person who found it that they were willing to give everything they had to obtain it.
During Jesus’ time walking the countryside teaching He used parables as a way to connect His theological lessons to the people he encountered. Parables are short stories comparing two things. Jesus usually compared a physical object with a spiritual concept. These were effective ways to present complicated lessons but most importantly this was a manner of teaching that was common in His time. This method opened people’s hearts to His messages and I would even say softened their minds to new ideas. Being in an era of verbal storytelling this was pivotal in His ministry.
Let us begin with the parable of the Found Treasure. Out of the seven parables of Matthew 13, four of them feature a field as its location. (Three previous being: The sower, The weeds, and The mustard seed.) When Jesus repeats themes this is a sign that we must take note of the message he is communicating to us. Even in our time a field is under appreciated. It’s something we know and see but seldom is it on our mind. Ordinary. Unremarkable. In these parables Jesus is bringing the importance of the Kingdom of God to the forefront of our mind. Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom is very valuable and very accessible: We can find a treasure like God’s Kingdom in the ordinary. We can find Him in the ordinary.
When we read this passage we have to take a moment and understand the customs in Jesus’ lifetime. There are vast differences in how we understand the laws of our current culture compared to those in the First Century. In Jesus’ time possession was not enough for you to claim ownership of found things. There was no such thing as “finders keepers losers weepers” with regard to finding valuables. Rights to ownership of found things abided by the laws and customs of the time. Specifically Roman Laws.
According to the laws of Roman society at that time the treasure the man found would have belonged to the owner of the field. This is the reason the man sold everything he had to buy the plot of land so that he could claim the treasure. Jesus never gave the details of what the man found in the field except to call it a treasure. The word translated as treasure in this passage is the Greek word thēosaurós translated to mean wealth literally or figuratively. That was to show that whatever it was it had great value to the man who found it. A treasure so valuable that the man was immediately motivated to sell everything he owned to purchase the field and earn the right to claim the treasure as his own. *For older children things to discuss here would be: We could argue his scrupulous motivations: Should he have been forthright in disclosing the treasure? Plenty of discussion worthy answers for that question. As to the legality of Roman-Jewish laws; he abided them in his land purchase. How is that different from your Treasure Trove Laws? (For more reading see additional resources below.)
For the second parable a merchant is meticulously searching the world looking for beautiful pearls. Searching far and wide he collected numerous beautiful pearls. When he found one particular pearl, so rare in its beauty, he sold everything he had to purchase it. That must have been a spectacular pearl!
Why a pearl?
In the First Century world pearls were an extremely rare gem. Cherished as symbols of purity, perfection, and elegance pearls are still prized for their beauty. It is estimated that a naturally occurring pearl develops in 1 of every 10,000 animals. With that statistic you can see how pearls became the “Queen of Gems.” Pearls are created inside living animals called mollusks. Pearls can form in any mollusk with a shell. Oysters are the mollusk most known for making pearls we are familiar seeing. In modern day pearls are still considered beautiful accessories. No longer rare as they were in the First Century pearls have lost their title as the “Queen of Gems”. This loss in title came from the development of cultivating pearls. By the 1920s cultivated pearls became a reliable source for pearls making them less expensive. To compare the modern values: A single strand necklace of 53 cultivated pearls ranges between $50-$100,000. A single strand necklace of 53 natural pearls costs $100,000-$1,000,000+.
The Bible has several mentions of pearls and in each case, it is something of extreme value, something to be treasured. In Revelation 21:21 The original word used in that passage was the Greek word kalós translated in a number of ways including beautiful, valuable, precious, magnificent, or virtuous. Pearls were so precious to God they were used to form the gates of the new Jerusalem. Perhaps you recall hearing the phrase “pearly gates of heaven” to describe these gates. The only pearls available in Jesus’ lifetime were naturally occurring. From what we know about the current value of naturally formed pearls we can assume they were even more expensive. An interesting connection for understanding the value of pearls at that time is a story about Roman General Vitellius being able to fund military campaigns by selling one of his mother’s pearl earrings. (For more reading see additional resources below.)
The activity from the Family Faith Formation Session corresponding with this parable lesson was simple yet impactful. A small plastic storage tub was filled with play sand. Buried within were various seashells. Tucked inside some of the seashells were pearls of various sizes. The lesson began with reading the Parable to the children. The children were asked to take on the role of being the merchant in search of a fine pearl. Sifting through the sand filled bin they searched for shells hoping to find the largest fine pearl.
“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 13:45-46
Questions to ask the children afterwards: How long did it take for you to find a pearl? Did you find a large or small pearl? What do you like about pearls? Was finding the pearl you wanted easy? Do you think your persistence in searching for the largest pearl was worth your time and effort?
To summarize the parable for this activity: Jesus was comparing Heaven with the beautiful pearl. Getting into Heaven is a lifelong search for truth, beauty, and goodness. We have to work at getting the treasure of Heaven. As the merchant who gave up his possessions, selling them all, to afford the fine pearl we too will need to give up some of the pleasures of this world so that we can grow more holy. Jesus is the treasure. Once you find Him you will want to make sure He is the most important thing in your life. Unpacking this treasure is the work of our spiritual life. The cultivation of faith, hope and charity helps us discover and live this treasure more fully each day. Our sacrifices and renunciations help us dig this treasure out of the earthy make-up of our lives. We can ask: Am I making my friendship with Christ that guides my heart and my decisions? Am I sincerely allowing Christ’s treasure to transform me?
Each of these parables include men finding something worth more than everything they own, but their circumstances are different. Why does Jesus use these two men? One thought is because these two parables show us two ways people find the kingdom of God. One way is totally surprising. The kingdom appears in a flash, unexpectedly. Another way is less surprising.
The merchant is looking for something valuable; he just had no idea he could find something this valuable. Both ways can transform your life. Spiritual truth seems elusive to so many. In our search for spiritual truth many of us don’t know we’re looking, we just go about life one day at a time, waiting for something to happen. Others are in pursuit, traveling far in search of the meaning of life. Jesus is saying the truth is here. All we need to do is recognize it when we see it. Both parables men are discovering their treasure in the every day places. The man found a treasure in a field. How many others walked by that field without thinking anything of value could be hidden there? The man who purchased the pearl bought it from someone. Why could no one else see its value? Jesus is telling us the spiritual truth we’re looking for is here, in this world, around us now. All we need is the eyes to see and the ears to hear. Here is Jesus, God incarnate, bringing God’s word about God’s kingdom of God’s grace to earth.
For Homeschool additions:
Literature: I Spy Books, Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson, The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz, The Hardy Boys The Tower Treasure by Franklin W. Dixon, Pirates of the Chesapeake Bay: From the Colonial Era to the Oyster Wars by Jamie L.H. Goodall,
Math: treasure math treasure chest math facts sort or treasure themed activities for math
Science: Consider looking into the life cycle of oysters and how a pearl is made within oysters. There are several great videos to watch that can supplement this lesson. Sink Your Shucks Oyster Recycling Program Florida State University has a great page The Oyster Life Cycle with a video to watch. Oysters in Ancient Greece
- Iván Siklósi: Treasure trove in Roman law, in legal history, and in modern legal systems. A brief summary.
- Christopher Coble, Esq.: If I find a treasure, can I keep it?
- Katy Steinmetz: The Law of Finders-Keepers and What Happens When You Find Buried Treasure
- Read more about the pearl from NOVA The History of Pearls.