Let me tell you a story.*
A number of years ago, my parents took me to this antique store. It was one of those places where it looked like your grandma had dropped off everything she owned and got her friends to do the same thing. There were little cups with legs on them, Victorian chairs, avocado colored lamps, and so on. It was the sort of place that seemed pretty interesting to me as a kid, for the first five minutes. Then I’d get bored.
But my parents didn’t let me get bored. They brought me to one corner of the store and showed me a painting. The painting itself wasn’t remarkable, but the frame looked like it had been intricately carved by hand. On the back, they showed me a pocket. They told me that the artist who painted the picture and carved the frame had also sewn his life savings, over half a million dollars worth of diamonds, into that pocket.
I didn’t know what to think.
My parents didn’t bother trying to convince me. They simply pointed out that to buy the whole painting would cost $300. That was a fortune to me at the time. I’d have to save all my birthday and Christmas money for at least a year to buy it. But even at that young age, I knew the math. I knew spending $300 to get the half million was totally worth it, not even up for comparison.
We slid the photo behind one of the dressers. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but they could have stretched to purchase the painting for me. Instead, they told me they’d chip in $100 if I wanted to buy it. I didn’t understand that at the time.
Still, it took me only one Christmas to come up with the money, the $200 I needed to add to my parents’ money for the painting. I scrounged up the cash extra fast by selling some stuff I already owned and contributing savings I’d already accumulated. I even cashed out the bonds my grandparents had given me on each of my birthdays since I was born.
Money in hand, I asked my parents to take me back to the antique store. I wondered if the painting would still be there. I wondered if maybe someone else had come by and bought it or even ripped the stitches in the back and stolen the diamonds. I’d thought of doing that myself. Who would know, except my parents, I guess?
As it turned out, someone had bought the dresser, but the painting still stood there, leaning against the wall where we’d left it, in plain view now. No one had bought it. No one had stolen the diamonds. The seams all looked in tact.
Handing my money to the lady behind the counter, more money than I’d ever spent at once, I knew I was making a good deal. I trusted my parents. They’d told me about the value of the jewels, and I’d decided to believe them. I already knew they knew more than me, and they weren’t the lying type. Why would they deceive their own son, especially since they were spending $100 of their own?
The lady behind the counter smiled at me. “You’re getting yourself a fine bargain here, young man. We only sell about one of these every month or so.”
“You mean there are more?” I asked.
“Sure. Whenever someone buys one, we cart out another.”
Sure enough even as we were still talking about it, a man was rolling another painting just like mine out into the display room. I didn’t know what to make of that. It somehow didn’t feel as special once I knew that. I looked up at my parents. “Do they all have, you know?”
My parents and the lady all nodded in unison.
Wow, and my eyes grew wide.
“Can I buy another one?” I still hadn’t even fully examined the one I’d purchased.
“Why would you need another?” my dad asked, Momma adding, “You can help someone else buy one, though, if you want.”
We left the antique store together that day, my parents and me and my one painting. I didn’t have money for another one. Besides, I still didn’t know if I liked the idea of everyone having one.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” -Matthew 13:44
*The story is a combo of three: the story of the person who left their life savings in their daughter’s picture frame, the story Jesus told in Matthew 13 about the treasure hidden in the field, and the story of how I became a Christian.