The sticker on the front page of Saturday's Sarasota Herald-Tribune screamed "BERNIE MADOFF AUCTION, SUNDAY DECEMBER 27, THE RITZ-CARLTON, SARASOTA, FL." The fine print clarified that it wasn't the convicted Ponzi scheme operator's property that was being sold off, but that of people who were victims of his massive swindle. Curious, I went to see the treasures and learn about their value as alternative investments.
Vacationing nearby at my mother's timeshare, I pulled up to the Ritz in our family's minivan, parked among the luxury cars, and said goodbye to my wife and kids who departed for the beach.
The makeshift auction room, resembling an overstuffed museum, was filled with paintings, lithographs, serigraphs, sculptures, rugs, jewelry, crystal, vases, furniture, and people who looked wealthy enough to purchase these things as if they were Wal-Mart merchandise. Attendees were allowed to view the items a half hour before the auction began. A signed Leroy Neiman serigraph titled "Sweet Serve" was on display along with an Andy Warhol, a Dali, a Degas, pieces by Renior and Picasso and his daughter H. Claude Pissaro, and others.
In a dicey investment market, people often purchase collectibles instead of common investments like mutual funds, stocks, and bonds. A five-carat yellow diamond went for $22,000 (perhaps far less than retail price). Another bidder picked up an original oil Picasso for $12,000. Hundreds of thousands of dollars changed hands in a few hours. In a few years, these items may be worth much more.
Or will they?
Sure, buyers could have overpaid, but what if Jesus returns tomorrow? Certainly investing is important. We're to be good stewards of our resources in order to advance God's kingdom. But how much faith, value, and security do we place in the baubles of the world?
Do these things define us? Can they? I must admit that I felt a worldly intoxication as I walked through the ornate hallways of the Ritz. I felt at home momentarily.
These things, of course, will be worthless in God's economy some day. Jesus said:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
That's an alternative investment strategy we should all believe in.