Buried treasures were not uncommon in the time of Jesus. People of that time did not have safety deposit boxes or wall safes in which to keep their valuables. So in the event of a threatening situation, a man would usually bury his valuables to keep them safe. However, if the man died while dealing with the threat, the treasure was often lost because no one else knew where it was. The law provided that the treasure belonged to the land owner in which it was buried. Notice the parable mentions the fact that the finder hides it and makes provisions to buy the field. In other words, the treasure is not his.
The pearl, on the other hand, is the object of a search. The gem collector or jeweler or merchant is active pursuing this treasure. So while there are justice issues involved in the buried treasure parable, this parable presents a situation that is free of such considerations as long as the merchant pays a just price for the gem.
The two parables illustrate an important point in Jesus' preaching. Oftentimes he will cite "shady" situations to illustrate the necessity to be actively involved in our spiritual life. We cannot simply let it happen to us. The parables often present us with undesirable characters such as the dishonest steward, the corrupt judge, the opportunistic prodigal. However, they all teach us the need to be industrious and creative in cultivating our relationship with God. All too often, we, like the scribes and Pharisees of the Gospel, are complacent about our spiritual heritage, taking it for granted, presuming that all is well.
Whether we meet God accidentally or as the result of a search, we must be ready to engage God. This is why our life of prayer is so important. Setting aside time each day to commune with the Lord is the only way to insure that our relationship will remain healthy. Otherwise, the treasure might slip through our fingers.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator