Sunday, August 18, 2019

Jeremiah 2.4-13: Worth

They went after worthless things and became worthless themselves. That's what God has to say about the ancestors of the house of Jacob (Jeremiah 2:4-13). God then reminds the people of what has come to them as a result of their relationship with God. And yet, God wonders, they traded the relationship with God for something less. For something with less value...for something that, by comparison, has no worth.

Of course, who defines worth? Who defines how much something is worth? Consider the photo below. What do you think this ceramic piece is worth? Really, stop to consider and come up with a figure before you read ahead. And, yes, the background may tell you that this is from Antiques Roadshow. How much is it worth?

Would you believe $30,000 to $50,000? That's what the Antiques Roadshow appraiser said the piece was worth. It really is a one-of-a-kind piece, probably late 19th or early 20th century, and worth $30,000 to $50,000. Not bad when the owner had purchased it at an estate sale for $300. So an original appraiser (at the estate sale) said it was worth $300. The AR appraiser multiplied that figure by a thousand. And now it's worth $30,000 to $50,000. What changed about the piece that all of a sudden it was worth a thousand times more money than before? Worth. Is it true that things are really only worth whatever you can get someone to pay for them?

Here's the first twist to this story of changing worth. A viewer watching this episode of Antiques Roadshow immediately called a friend and told the friend that she needed to go online and watch this appraisal. Turns out that the friend created the piece. In high school in the 1970s. Hmmm. Now how much is the piece worth? What would you say?

The AR appraiser revised the appraisal to $3,000 to $5,000. So now it's worth ten times less than it was. It's been worth $300, $3,000, even $30,000. All the same piece. No changes whatsoever. What is it worth?

What's worthless here? The object? The human ability to identify "worth"? The human need to attach worth to things? Our understanding of what things are really "worth"?

It's that last question that may hold the key. If we are swayed by the opinions and pronouncements of others about the worth of things, then we shall surely chase after things that are ultimately worthless. And in doing so, we will become worthless in our ability to live lives of faithful service to God.

The story of the object above has one more twist. The man who paid $300 for the piece at an estate sale bought it because he loved it. When it was "worth" $30,000, he put it away for safekeeping. Now that it is "worth" less, he has brought it back out where he can enjoy it. Which was why he bought it in the first place. One last twist on worth: the piece's creator, Betsy Soule, was surprised to find that someone was willing to pay $300 in the first place. She said if she had known he liked the piece (and it had been in her possession), she probably would have given it to him. What's that worth?

For additional reading about this story, click here or here .
For thoughts on Luke 14:1, 7-14, click here.

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