A hoard of 48 gold and silver items buried by a Viking Chieftain over a thousand years ago, was discovered in a field just outside the town where I live almost exactly 11 years ago today. The Bedale Hoard of necklaces, armbands, and silver ingots is valued in the tens of thousands and is now on display in the Yorkshire Museum in York.
The thought that there might be treasure to be found, just within our reach, motivates some of us to walk farm fields with metal detectors, and others to buy lottery tickets, text our entry to a television competition, or place a bet on the 3:30 at Chepstow. The hope of winning big and gaining something of great value excites us all, and our bucket lists of dreams sit waiting for their opportunities to come true. Most of us, however, will never find a buried Viking hoard, and the odds of ‘winning big’ are stacked in favour of those that sell the tickets. Some people do win and become millionaires overnight, but wealth brings many other issues with it and unending happiness is seldom one of them.
The truth is, we are all motivated by something. Something inspired you to read these words. Perhaps you were just curious, hoping to read something interesting or learn something new. We look for meaning in life because with meaning, comes purpose, and purpose gets us out of bed in the morning. For some that ‘purpose’ is gaining wealth, others pursue new or exciting experiences, while others seek personal happiness, doing the things that please us and make us smile. But as time passes, even the pursuit of these things pales, and what excited us once can lose its shine or leave us sensing that perhaps there is more to living than even this.
The gospel writer Matthew recorded a saying of Jesus that has puzzled many people when he described God’s kingdom as being like a treasure hidden in a field. The idea of possessing this treasure was enough to motivate its finder into selling all their possessions so that they could buy the field in which they found it. This treasure being worth more to them than everything else. The puzzle is that Jesus does not say what this treasure actually is, but I’m pretty sure, however, it was not a hoard of gold and silver items.
It is often said that we bring nothing with us when we enter this world as a baby and that we can take nothing from it when we die. It is also true that much about us, our genes, and the characteristics they develop in us are given to us before birth and we can do little to alter them as our lives progress. Even our early life experiences form our minds before we personally have the capacity to understand the world or have much impact on it. However constrained this may make us, there is one aspect of life over which we do still have a great deal of say, and that is in our relationships with others.
A relationship is something that exists outside of everyone. It forms in the space between two or more individuals. It is shaped by our actions, and molded by the time and effort we are both willing to invest in it. We cannot own a relationship, and we cannot keep it to ourselves. It must be maintained by all involved, and the investment in it must be balanced too. For if it becomes too much one-sided then it is likely to break down and if one party decides to disengage, or to act in such a way as to destroy the bond, the relationship is broken.
But though relationships form in the space between us, they penetrate our inner selves. They grow in our hearts and engulf our thoughts, and in doing so bring us the highest highs and lowest lows of our lives. Perhaps then, it is our relationships that are our greatest treasures. What we value the most. Our joy as we bond with a new-born life, the delight we have as we watch our children, and grandchildren grow, the thrill of hearing the person we have fallen in love with, telling us they love us too.
Maybe then, what Jesus was telling us, is that the treasure of God’s kingdom is just this. That the God who created the universe is also the God who loves us individually and personally. He is the God who chose to become like us, willing to be born as a human baby, content to live alongside ordinary people forming close relationships with them, and willing to die to make it possible for us all to live in relationship with him. For me, I know that my greatest treasure is the relationship that I have with Jesus.
If you are excited about the idea of finding treasure, may I suggest that a good place to start looking for it is not in the fields around your hometown, but in the pages of the Bible. Read about Jesus, get to know him, and speak with him (his friends call this praying). Relationships are always two-sided and this one is no exception, so ask him to make himself real to you. I know many people who have done just this, and they would all agree that the relationship they have discovered with Jesus, is more thrilling and is of much greater value than any treasure they could ever find in a field.