For The New Yorker, Jake Halpern recently wrote about treasure rumored to have been buried beneath the ancient Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in India. For centuries local maharajas had donated riches to the temple, but no records were kept. Whatever lay inside belonged to the temple idol. Wanting to protect it, a local lawyer filed a suit on behalf of the god asking that a trustee oversee the wealth.
What followed was something straight out of Indiana Jones with death threats, the discovery of a secret vault, and jewels worth an estimated 20 billion dollars. Yep, billion. Twenty of them. Smack in the middle of one of the world’s poorest communities.
All I could imagine was Mother Theresa working in the slums and wonder what such wealth would have meant to the dying and destitute people she gave her life to serve. Apparently, so did Halpern, who visited a nearby community of shacks where women sorted through heaps of trash and sold fish covered with flies and a little girl played near a pit of sludge. The writer asked the people living there whether the treasure should be used to help them.
“It belongs to god!” one Hindu said.
Of those Halpern spoke with, only one old Christian man said the wealth should be used to help people.
While weaving this remarkable story, Halpern shared an anecdote of a wooden box owned by the lawyer who’d initiated the search. One of his grandfathers had bought gold coins from King George V and was believed to have stored them in the box. However, the lawyer had never opened it out of respect for his ancestors.
As I finished reading this, I considered my own resources—what I horde for myself vs. what I share with others. I also questioned the gifts I’ve been given by a loving God who intended for me to use them for the benefit of others. Am I the god sitting on a cavern of treasure? Or the lawyer who’s never pulled the lid off a great inheritance? Or am I the box?
Perhaps I am all three.
In Matthew 19:21, Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
I’ve heard a lot of well-meaning people talk circles around this one, but the most meaningful came from a man, also the parent of a child with disabilities, who counseled me after the death of my daughter Ruth.
“You have treasure in heaven,” he’d said, implying the reward my family would receive one day for the love we’d given to one whom the world had rejected.
I’ve a long way to go before fulfilling the words of Christ, but when this man mentioned treasure, all I thought of was Ruth—what treasure to see her again. What is all the treasure in the world compared to the value of one human life?
What about you? What do you think this verse means?