Have you ever heard a story about a painting thought to be created by an amateur artist, but after being authenticated, was instantly promoted from an ordinary painting to a rare and valuable piece of art? What was considered worthless, not fit to be hung on a wall, became a treasured piece of art, worthy of respect, honor and praise.
One of these stories is about a Norwegian Industrialist, Christian Nicolai Mustad, who in 1908 purchased a 19th century painting of the French countryside at sunset, called Sunset at Montmajour. He believe it was created by Vincent van Gogh, but when the French ambassador to Sweden visited Mustad’s home and told him it was a fake, Mustad put the painting in the attic, and it stayed there until his death in 1970.
When the new homeowners found the painting, they suspected that it might be a van Gogh. They had it authenticated by the Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum in 1991. At first, they still considered it a fake because it lacked a signature, but after many years they used new technologies to confirm it was in fact a van Gogh painting.
Mustad did not appreciate the beauty of this painting simply because he thought it was a fake. How sad that Mustad lived the rest of his life with this splendid rare piece of art relegated to the attic – out of sight and out of mind.
This story reminds me of two parables spoken by Jesus in Matthew 13:44-46:
44 “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.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
In both parables, the man and the merchant intuitively understood they discovered something valuable and did not rely on others to convince them otherwise.
Jesus knew that the beauty of the kingdom of God would be hidden from many people, so he spoke in parables. Jesus also knew that those who believed in him would understand the meaning of the parables, and those who did not believe in him would miss the message.
10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]
16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
Just like Mustad who listened to the French Ambassador’s opinion that his painting was not a treasure, we too can rely on our culture to tell us what we should value.
Many podcasts, songs, movies, magazines and social media sites influence us to think that the Bible is outdated and no longer needed. These platforms may not say it explicitly, but their sneaky messages leave no room for the kingdom of God. Instead the kingdom of self rules supreme.
Jesus spoke repeatedly about the kingdom of God:
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Sprit.”
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.
From the story about Mustad and his paintings and the parables of the hidden treasure and the fine pearl, we can know one thing for sure: Beauty can be hidden and not seen by all.
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