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By Helen Watson White in All Sorts

a Biblical view of treasure and where and how to find it


In his memorable Mary-and-Martha service at Mornington on 21 July, David Poultney quoted a verse from the thirteenth-century Persian mystic and poet, Rumi:
There is a force within that gives you life – Seek that.
In your body there lies a priceless jewel – Seek that.
Oh, wandering Sufi,
If you are in search
of the greatest treasure, don't look outside,
Look within, and seek that.
The reason a person needs to be told to look for treasure somewhere, rather than somewhere else, is that treasure doesn't often declare itself openly. Think how many classic stories have a hoard of buried treasure – or a precious ring, or something else of supreme value – hidden at their heart. It may be sunk so deep in a wrecked ship, or be so hidden in earth, or perhaps the map showing its whereabouts is so obscure, that it is entirely possible you could walk (or sail) right over it and not see this precious thing or collection of things.
The act of seeing – or more often not seeing – is an indication of the object's rare quality; your sense of sight has to be educated, informed, to be able to grasp what it is. There is another line from Rumi's wise writings that becomes almost funny as he makes this point:
'You wander from room to room, hunting for the diamond necklace, that is already around your neck.'
This utterance from Rumi, an Islamic theologian, is very like the sort of thing you find in the Hebrew scriptures, in books like Ecclesiastes (7: 1– 'A good name is better than precious ointment') or Proverbs (15: 16 – 'Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it'). These First-Testament writings were of course known to Jesus, who develops ideas about treasure, and the ability to see its value, in several of his stories, including this one beginning at Luke 12:16:
There was once a rich man who, having had a good harvest from his land, thought to himself, 'What am I to do? I have not enough room to store my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I will do: I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones, and store all my grain and my goods in them, and I will say to my soul: My soul, you have plenty of good things laid by for many years to come; take things easy, eat, drink, have a good time.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?' So it is when a man stores up treasure for himself in place of making himself rich in the sight of God.' (Jerusalem Bible)
So there are different kinds of treasure: there's treasure you've heard about, but can't find because you are looking in the wrong place; treasure that you already have, but don't recognize as such; something that is abstract (hidden, intangible) that may have a value greater than something that is tangible and obviously costly. Usually in the Bible, the most valuable thing or things will be invisible to ordinary people, valued only by wise ones who have been educated in ways of seeing. The man in the story stores up treasure for himself of the most obvious kind: food (grain) to eat in the future, 'goods' or possessions unspecified, such as most of us have in our cupboards – at the back,
underneath other stuff – or in the cellar or attic if we have one, on top of the wardrobe or under the bed.
Despite Janet Frame's children in Owls Do Cry finding 'treasure' at the rubbish dump, and me finding treasure at op-shops on a regular basis, there is undeniably another kind of treasure that makes this stuff seem like dross by comparison.
For instance there's time spent with children – any children, but especially your own – and the things that they say and do; time spent with animals you know well, and who know you; there's time spent by the sea – any sea, any beach, but perhaps a special one; time spent working at a job you love, and so on and so on. Beyond value. But these are all fairly tangible, fairly nameable things, and you already know about them, unless (as the Bible keeps saying) you're a fool.
Seeing we are looking at hidden treasure, the most valuable of all, it might take a bit longer to make a list of those qualities that make us, every one, 'rich in the sight of God.' Have a go – don't be shy. Deep within, you are made of pure gold.
Helen Watson White