From “The Parable of the Treasure in the Field and the Pearl of Great Price,” Christ and the Meaning of Life (1962)
That’s why Jesus dd not go striding through the world as a messianic king with twelve legions of angels. Then every one of us could have seen and saluted him only from afar, across the cold distance with which he great of this world are accustomed to cordon themselves off from the rest of us. That’s why he died like all his human brothers That’s why he spared himself nothing that others too must bear. There is something pitiable in every one of us, even though outwardly we may cut a quite passable figure In one way or another we are all standing “alone in the rain.” And it is precisely at this level of the self, where we are poor and alone, that Jesus is our Brother.
And that’s why — and this is the other corollary — he became the hidden, secret King, so hidden that one can easily overlook him, so hidden that one can walk the fields of Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Golgotha without ever seeing him, that one can even enter the field of the church without seeing the pearl in all the muck and all the petty trappings. It pleased God not to mount the pearl of sonship to God in a golden setting and place it in the gala show window of one of our great cities, where it cannot be reached, and only the wise, the wealthy, and the plutocrats of this world can buy it. No, it pleased him rather to put it in a very ordinary field, a field like any other field, where the heavy and toilsome steps of men are trod, and where even the poorest can find it.
So there is one thing at any rate that we can learn in this hour, and that is that we shall not be like those blasé people who ask, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and be offended by the poor and stony field in which the pearl lies hidden. We shall not be offended by the fact that this pearl — Jesus Christ — lay in the field of a country situated on the periphery of world events and which is in many respects alien to us. We shall not allow this to reduce it to merely relative importance. We shall not be offended by the fact that it appears in an age to which we of the age of atomic power and jet planes imagine we are superior.
Rather, we shall love the pearl because it did not think itself too good to be buried in that poor field and because therefore it does not think itself too good to be picked up today by our poor and empty hands. In these hands — and what have these hands done! — in these hands we can take and press to our hearts the very glory of God. In these mouths of ours — and what villainies and devastations have not poured out from them! — we may receive his gift of grace at the table of the Lord. If the field was not too sordid for him, so shall our hands be not too soiled for him, ether.
So it is because of love and profound condescension that God is hidden in the field.
Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. An opponent of the Nazi regime, he played an important role in reestablishing religious and intellectual life in postwar Germany, founding the theological faculty at Hamburg while also pastoring the city’s main church, the St. Michaeliskirche.