the whole field!

‘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.‘ Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Mt 13:44-46)

I don’t think I ever preached on this gospel before I used it for my solemn vows. Our friend Steve Frantz (now happily married) was here at the time as a junior monk. I remember talking with him about this gospel, him asking me why I would pick it for monastic vows. And I told him that it was already clear to me that monastic life was not going to be just about the nice robes and the beautiful liturgies and sitting in my cell (as if in Paradise), but was also about getting along with folks with whom I might never have chosen to associate, and doing work that I might never have chosen to do, and maybe even studying things that I didn’t really have that much interest in. But what I learned from this guy in the parable is that when he finds the treasure he doesn’t take it away in stealth: he buys the whole field! So if I had found a treasure in monastic life, I knew had better be prepared to buy the whole field. For weeks afterward Steve used to come up to me and clear out of the blue he’d spread his hands out in a gesture and say to me, “He bought the whole field!”

I was talking to my Mom on the phone about a month ago, telling her about our road situation and the geotechnical issues and the complicated nature of getting to and from town with cars on either side of the canyon, and she said to me, “I’ll bet you never thought you were going to have to do stuff like that as a monk, huh?” And I said, “Well, the problem is, Mom, I found the treasure hidden in the field, and I bought the whole field!” And so now every time I talk to my folks on the phone she always reminds of this. I’ll be talking to my Dad and I can hear her in the background yelling, “You bought the whole field!!

What I think is lovely about this is that not only were they so impressed by this little thought, but that they keep echoing it back to me, reminding me.

And really the same thing applies to any vocation. Take marriage: you marry a beautiful young spouse, and suddenly five years later you’ve got two kids, one of them is having a meltdown in the kitchen and laundry is all piled up in the living room and you have work that you brought home that you want to get done by morning… but you bought the whole field! When I was touring as a musician, sometimes we’d travel for hours, schlep all this gear into the venue and do a long set up and sound check, and then check into another generic hotel room, exhausted, and every now and then one of us would look at the other while we were carrying an amplifier or loading the van and say, “Ah, the romantic life of a musician!” But we had bought the whole field for the joy of being able to make music.

There are, as always two sides to this. It’s not only that we simply put up with the whole field because the treasure is buried in it. You could also say that the whole field is holy because of the treasure in it, as if the treasure radiates out in waves. Or maybe you could even say that the whole field always was holy already too. (That’s back to my favorite line of all time from the Rule, that the monks should “treat all the tools of the monastery as if they were vessels for the altar.”)

I remember hearing a swami say once, in one of the best examples of dualism I’d ever heard, that “the lotus flower has nothing to do with the mud.” I thought to myself, wait a minute: that’s absurd! First of all, there would be no lotus flower without the mud. Secondly, it may be that the mud is actually the real treasure! And the lotus flower is the field, the outward manifestation of something dark and holy buried beneath the surface. That leads to the inner meaning of this parable.

Of course Jesus is speaking about something even deeper than our immediate vocation or avocation. He’s speaking about the kingdom of heaven, the reign of God, and our relationship with God. I was reminded too of King Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings, where he asks to be granted wisdom[1] or the Psallite ostinato that we love to sing here: I loved wisdom more than health or beauty, and I chose her even over light. This is a place where the image of the treasure buried in the field works so well. Where is the kingdom of heaven? Where is this reign of God? “Not in some heaven light years away.” Consider the words of the seventh-century saint Isaac of Syria:

Try to enter your inner treasure house and you will see the treasure house of heaven. For both the one and the other are the same, and the one and the same entrance reveals them both. The ladder leading to the kingdom is within you, that is, in your soul.[2]

I think this is what attracted me first to the spiritual writings of the so-called East, the Christian East and the Asian traditions in general. They have such a vocabulary and such beautiful poetry for this experience of the inner dwelling. For years I have loved the Tibetan Buddhist mantra, OM mane padme hum, for instance, which means the “jewel in the heart of the lotus.” That’s like a combination of the treasure buried in the field and the pearl of great price. Or that beautiful section of the Chandogya Upanishad speaks of the atman, the essential self …

… residing in the lotus of the heart––smaller than a grain of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, or than a grain of millet … This is the atman residing in the lotus of the heart––greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than heaven, greater than all these worlds.

When I hear these images they conjure of that pearl of great price that is within us, the spark of God, the stream of living water, the breath that was breathed into the clay, all of which are none other than the Holy Spirit who is the reign of God. That’s the real jewel in the heart of the lotus, abiding in the lotus of the heart. And once we discover that, even just a glimpse, it sort of ruins everything else, every other treasure. That pearl of great price buried in the field of our very bodies, that jewel in the lotus of the heart, in the field of our very persons, changes everything, and we are left with no choice but to sell everything and buy it, and the whole field with it, to forsake all for it until it transforms the whole field, our whole being, body and soul.


2 aug 17

feast of Eusebius of Vercelli


[1] 1 Kgs 3:5-8.

[2]Writings from the Philokalia: On Prayer of the Heart, 30.

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  1. Thank you for this beautiful interpretation.

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  2. beautiful, Cyprian…I needed to hear these words with mud creek etc.

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  3. Thanks Cyprian for this great homily.
    I heard Fr. William Johnston, SJ reflect on this gospel. He said we should approach religious formation differently based on showing the great treasure first then asking for the sacrifice and ascetical practices afterwards which struck me as powerful. We may be asking too much of initiates before the have seen the great treasure. The cost is seen as “woth it” if we get a glimpse the value of the treasure to be gained.

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