Treasures Recognized Too Late

for the week of November 27, 2000
by Rubel Shelly

According to a Court of Appeals panel, Martha Nelson's estate was a "victim of its own folly." The result of the ruling is that her heirs are not entitled to reclaim two paintings that were sold at auction to a couple in Tucson, Arizona, back in 1996. The couple paid $60 for the pieces and later sold them through Christie's auction house in New York for $1,072,000!

When Ms. Nelson died, her family put the two paintings on sale for a tiny fraction of their worth. They were unaware that Magnolia Blossoms and Cherokee Roses were valuable 19th-century works from noted artist Martin Johnson Heade. When the boondoggle was discovered, they brought suit to overturn the sale by arguing it was based on a mistake about the paintings' value.

A judicial panel ruled the estate representatives "had ample opportunity to discover what it was selling and failed to do so," acting to reclaim them only after learning their true worth later. In effect, the court said: Sorry! You could have known, and you should have known. It's too late now to recoup your gaffe.

Does it sound familiar to you? Esau did not trust God to honor the covenant promises he was due to inherit from Abraham and Isaac. Ravenous with hunger, he swore to sell his birthright to Jacob for a single meal. "Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright" (Genesis 25:34). He wasn't the last to be so foolish.

A teenager forfeits his or her chastity in the context of an immature relationship driven by lust; only later does that person realize how valuable an element of innocence and self-respect has been thrown away. A young single person or couple just starting out straps itself with impulsive and unwise debt; then comes the bill in terms of both dollars and stress. A lie, an affair, abuse of one's body we often don't see what valuable things we are trading for trifles.

As the court told Ms. Nelson's heirs, however, it is the possessors' duty to discern the value of things in their control. It is too late to call off a bad transaction after the fact. Esau "could bring about no change" in his situation, "though he sought the [previously abandoned] blessing with tears" (Hebrews 12:17).

Be very wise and discerning about the valuable things God has entrusted to you. There is little hope of reclaiming life's most valuable things after they have been traded for scraps. Treating treasures like trash will come back to haunt you.

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