Today again we hear from St Matthew’s ‘day of
parables’. Parables were a means of teaching,
with the aim of to catching the hearer’s attention
to make him/ her think. St Matthew gathers them
all together in his gospel with the result that
we may feel we have heard all this before. Their
aim remains valid for us, however: to get us to
remember and think about what Jesus reveals to
The parable of the treasure hidden in the field
reflects a society which is politically unstable
or in fear of invasion. In our time it might be
the attitude of someone who does not trust banks
or currencies. The implication is that the present
owner does not know about the treasure hidden
in his field. The parable does not concern itself
with the rights or wrongs of the situation. What
matters is the determination of the buyer, perhaps
the ploughman, when he has found it. He is only
too happy to sell everything.
When the treasure is found it is a surprise. The
pearl is found as the result of a search. The
response is more calculated but equally definite,
a single-minded determination. Pearls had a very
high status amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans.
In both cases what is found has the capacity to
change life for him who acquires. The Kingdom
of God is there, the opportunity of a lifetime,
not to be missed.
The ‘dragnet’ was a seine net, either dragged
between two boats, or laid down by a boat and
dragged to land by long ropes. The fishermen sit
down to make their choice. Some of the catch would
be inedible; some forbidden by the Law of Moses
[fish that do not have fins or scales Leviticus
11:10]. The fish that are of no use are thrown
away, not back into the sea. The focus of the
parable is the same as that of the wheat and the
weeds: how to deal with the mixed response that
the gospel receives. How should believers react
towards those who reject? The solution is the
same also: patience and tolerance until the day
of judgement. Leave it to God to set matters straight.
The scribe’s role is also a parable, although
not really a story. Every household needs the
new and the old: new clothes for the special occasion,
well-tested utensils and tools in kitchen or garden,
even old rags on occasion.
• It has been said that in telling us about
the scribe, Matthew is talking about himself:
writing an account of what Jesus did and said,
and drawing attention to the Old Testament to
back it up. The new and the old. Do I long for
‘the good old days’? Was the old always good
and is the new always a source of anxiety?
• In his gospel Matthew stresses that Jesus,
the new Moses, is the authoritative guide for
life here and now. Do I find it so?
• The fishermen sit down. They do not rush
their decisions about what fish are of no use.
One would expect experienced fishermen to get
the job done quickly. What does that picture
suggest about judgement?
• “I will speak to you in parables and expound
things hidden since the foundation of the world.”
“Many prophets and holy men have longed to hear
what you hear and never heard it.” Do I find
it hard to keep my sense of wonder at the ‘good