I saw an interesting story in the Toronto Star today. A retired trucker Teri Horton bought a painting at a garage sale for $5 in 1991 and some experts now believe it is an original work of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. The painting could be worth more than $100 million!
Don’t we all love these kinds of stories. Antiques Roadshow always seems to have one of these every episode where someone brings in this desk or quilt rack that has been handed down through the family or bought for a dollar at a garage sale and then turns out to be worth a fortune.
I personally prefer the stories where someone brings in some ‘priceless treasure’ only to find out it is nothing but a piece of junk. I’ll tell you what’s priceless: the look on their face when they find out the stinky blanket they have been carefully storing in the attic is just a stinky blanket. Now that’s priceless!
We love the idea that a priceless treasure is out there just waiting to be snapped for a dollar, or less. My only close brush with priceless treasures at bargain prices was a great find I had in 2001.
I was walking to my car from McMaster University. Rather than parking in the paid parking lot I would park in a subdivision nearby for free. It was garbage day and everyone had their recycling bins out as well. Just a block from my car I saw a curious sight. In a blue box there was what turned out to be two Ontario license plate from every year between 1950 and 1968. Some were in immaculate shape, some were in rough shape but there they were; and the recycling truck was on it’s way.
I had to move fast but I grabbed the stack of plates and carried them to my car. “Surely these weren’t junk!”, I said to myself. Well, 19 separate buyers on Ebay seemed to agree with me. All told I sold that garbage for a bit more than $300 US over the course of a year.
Some were bought by car owners who wanted vintage plates from the same year as their vintage car. One buyer was a restaurant owner in Florida who wanted a pair of 1957 plates from each state and province in North America.
My wife had scoffed at me at first for bringing this garbage into the house but after I sold the first couple of pairs for about $30 each she was… reservedly supportive.
I don’t think I would have given the poor sap that threw them all out a nickel if he were selling them but I had a feeling they weren’t worthless. I guess that’s the key isn’t it: knowing a treasure when you see one.
A friend of mine was at an auction where an entire house, contents and all was being liquidated. A sizable crowd had gathered and the entire estate began to disappear, one item at a time. A collection of paintings was next on the block; one was framed and there were two others like it rolled up in a tube. The auctioneer was about to sell the three all at once when a regular; a fixture at these type of auctions advised the auctioneer quietly, “You better do them one at a time.”
The auctioneer nodded and took the framed print and began to call for bids. Feeling cautiously optimistic he asked, “Do I hear $50 for this fine oil original from 1930?” An immediate response came from the front row. A second bid for $75 soon followed from the back and was matched again by the front row bidder; he would not be abated.
A buzz quickly spread across the crowd. ‘There must be something about this painting but what is it?’ A few speculative bidders were willing to risk as far as $800- $900 but they all eventually bailed out. After the bidding went over $2 000 the crowd would audibly gasp when a bid was made. The final price: $6 000.
When the auctioneer went to unroll the second piece the art collector in the front row winced painfully and begged him not to disturb the painting any further. He would bid on it sight unseen. In total he paid $14 000 for the three paintings. The auctioneer then paused and asked the collector to explain, now that the three pieces were securely in his possession, why was he willing to spend so much for these paintings of farm animals?
The collector, a friend of the family, knew that Ross Butler a famous Canadian artist, sculptor, and dairy breeder began his career making unsolicited portraits of winning exhibits in the Royal Agricultural Fair in the 1920’s and 30’s. He would offer these portraits to the owners of these prize winning animals in exchange for a modest fee. Prints that were not purchased would usually be destroyed however these three were given to a family friend and kept in storage for over 70 years. Butler went on to have a remarkable artistic career and these early portaits became highly prized collectors items. Reprints of these paintings are available for hundreds of dollars each.
The collector expected to turn a handsome profit at an art auction later that year, even despite the price he had paid for the three paintings. Knowing the true values of these treasures, he was willing to spend a relative fortune in order to get them.
Jesus tells a parable about the surpassing value of the Kingdom of God in Matthew 13: 44 – 46
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Without banks it was routine for people to keep their savings buried in a hole on their property. In many occasions a person would die without leaving word of where this treasure was kept and it would lay hidden for long time. Under Jewish Law a treasure found on a property belonged to the property owner and I find it significant in this story how there is no attempt at driving a hard bargain here. No illicit gain is sought. The man does not carry off the treasure when he finds it. He puts it back and obtains it legitimately: he pays through the nose to get it. The trader finds the perfect pearl and is willing to pay the perfect price to get it.
Sometimes I wonder if we don’t fully appreciate the value of the treasure we have in Christ. On the one hand it is hard to haggle with God when he offers the gift of salvation for free:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This gift of reconciliation with God is so precious we could not pay for a fraction of it’s worth. It is absurd to the point of being grotesque to consider how we could repay God for the suffering that Jesus was willing to suffer. And yet do we treat it like the priceless treasure it is.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Are we willing to set aside our pride in accepting this gift? Once accepted are we now willing to set aside our pride in forgiving another person for whom Christ died?
I have willingly accepted this priceless gift and tried to carry it along with habitual sin in my life. I have tried to carry this treasure along with my own personal agenda, my own petty squabbles.
I am ashamed to admit that I have gladly received this glorious gift and yet too often remained unwilling to tell my neighbours about it. Is this a priceless treasure or not?
May we receive His grace and recognize it’s priceless worth.