"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
These brief parables are without the moral elaboration that was usual in such stories. Rabbis’ stories of finding valuable pearls typically emphasised the finder’s piety. For example, a tailor pays an inflated price for a fish because he needs it to keep the sabbath, and later finds in it a pearl that covers all his needs for the rest of his life. Other features of stories about discovered treasure were some kind of bargain or compromise with the field’s owner; or sometimes the subsequent wasteful life of the finder. All such elaboration is missing in these brief parables. Jesus puts the images there, mentioning only the value of the treasure and the joy of finding. Then he leaves them to do their work.
“Where one cannot understand without words, no amount of explanation will make things clear,” wrote Myrtle Reed. Deep understanding is always silent. “I was speechless,” we say later. When we get our speech back we make up for lost time, but if there is no silence at the beginning there was nothing really new. If I sit under a tree and only remember lines of poems and beautiful sayings about trees, I haven’t really sat under the tree; I have only been talking to myself. Trees are silent beings. If I were truly present to a tree I too would become silent.
Contemplation is silent presence. Even there – or I should say especially there – we discover our compulsion to fill every space with words and readymade feelings. It is a way of trying to stay in control. “I am master of all I explain,” someone said. What a pity that the words ‘meditation’ and ‘contemplation’ are pale Latin words, just as pale as ‘explanation’! Think of some chunky Anglo-Saxon word for it. Thomas Merton did: he dropped these words and began to use the word ‘wisdom’. The greatest advantage of that word, for Christians, is that it has a human face and a heart: Jesus is the Word made flesh, the incarnation of the Wisdom of God.
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