This post is an extension of something I wrote for the weekly newsletter. For the sake of space, I wasn’t able to write more, but here, I’ve got a bit more room to share.
The VMFA is quickly becoming one of my favorite museums, and fortunately for me, it’s right here in the heart of Richmond. One of my most favorite pieces hanging in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is a painting by Angelica Kauffman (sadly, one of the few works by a female artist in the museum, but that’s another discussion) called Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, Pointing to Her Children as Her Treasures. Cornelia was a real person, and she lived in the second century BCE. With her father’s permission, she married a man who was not of noble class (though she certainly was, and her father was a decorated war hero). She had twelve children, though only three survived to adulthood. The painting depicts Cornelia and a young lady who came to visit her. The woman wishes to see Cornelia’s treasures and jewels, and instead of showing the lady her collection of fine things, she points to her children as her true treasures.
This painting by Kauffman bring a couple of ideas to mind. Cornelia was considered to be a woman of strong character, and the story illustrated in this painting demonstrates her virtue. She valued family and relationships more than material wealth. She saw that her children held more intrinsic value than gold or jewels, which says a lot about Cornelia’s priorities.
It reminds me of, in Luke’s gospel, when Jesus has just shared the Lord’s Prayer. He then goes on to compare our heavenly Father with our earthly parents.
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Cornelia, the virtuous and selfless mother, as good as she was, dims in comparison to our heavenly Father. He is generous, gracious, full of loving kindness, and created us in His own image. As much as earthly parents treasure their children, God our Father boundlessly lavishes His love and affection on us. His love for us absolutely paramounts any love we may experience here on earth. Indeed, He loves us so much, He sent His own Son to die for us, so that we might have restored relationship with Him. Oh, how He loves us!!
Even though I am not raising any children of my own, I have had children in my care during different parts of my life. I was a nanny and babysitter a lot during my adolescence and also as an adult. During those times of caring for children, I learned a lot of things. Firstly, I gained a newfound respect for mothers. Tantrums, meltdowns, sibling rivalry, and diaper blowouts became part of my everyday experiences. But so did baby laughs, playgrounds, afternoons at the pool, and brothers and sisters sharing and playing together. I also learned a new lesson of stewardship. Ultimately, children are not really ours, but a gift from God for a season while we are on earth. Much like all things, God has control of and sovereignty over both parents and their children. As stewards of these little ones, God has given us instruction about how to take care of them.
“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
This painting also illustrates that in addition to valuing family, Cornelia is not impressed by flashy things. For me, this is a bit of a complicated issue, and I would venture to say that it’s also true for many people. Money is a tough subject. That’s probably part of why Jesus preached about it so much while He was with us on earth. What I’ve been learning is that money, while necessary for living and a means of blessing others, when we view it wrongly, can impact us negatively in many areas. What I mean is that when we impart emotions and intrinsic value on money, we can fall into many traps. Traps like viewing monetary wealth as inherently evil, seeking it above relationships and even above Christ, envying those around us who have more than we do, or tying our value to how much we do or do not have.
Similarly to a parent and their child, our relationship with money and wealth is about stewardship. God is a good God, and He provides what we need. Our job is to use what He has given to us wisely. As just one example, Jesus spoke about this in the parable of the talents. How I desire to hear from the Lord:
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21)