(From the February Tatting)
As all student of UVA I was exposed to off-the-records stories about our beloved TJ, as he is “affectionately” known on Grounds. From stories of his original design and intentions for UVA to the more colorful accounts of his bachelor life and his legendary relationship with Sally. Our beloved TJ was indeed a fascinating character (certainly much more entertaining than the founders of The Olin and Preston Institute!).
Needless to say, my friend got my attention right away when he showed me the picture of an old wine bottle with the familiar “Th. J” inscription. In 1985 a Mr. Hardy Rodenstock claimed that some workers in Paris had knocked down a wall and found a stash of wine bottles dating back to the 18th Century. Each bottle had their vintage carved on the glass with the classic “Th. J.” clearly visible, exactly the way Thomas Jefferson used to write it. The years coincided with the times when Jefferson was in Paris. Wine enthusiasts around the world immediately began salivating over these bottles. In 1985 a single bottle was auction off at $160,000. To this day, it is still the most money ever paid for a single bottle of (very old) wine (vinegar?). More bottles were sold at ridiculously high prices until in 2005 a Mr. Bill Koch, who had spent half a million dollar buying four ThJ wine bottles decided to look into the authenticity of these bottles. The Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello was contacted and after pouring through their records they indicated that our TJ had nothing to do with those bottles. Consequently a large number of lawsuits were filed to sooth injured millionaire egos.
More interesting than the story involving TJ is the fact that there was a person in the world willing to spend $160,000 (in 1985 so adjust for inflation) for an undrinkable bottle of wine. To put it in perspective, the average American needs to work a full-time job for 5 years to make that much money. Why? I can only think of one reason: Validation through possession. At the core of our being we all have a need to be validated. We have a need to be legitimatized in this world, to feel that our existence is more than average. What makes me worthy? What makes me stand out? Material things have unfortunately became the fall back option for many. The ownership of highly expensive and extremely useless items have become the source of validating and demonstrating one’s hard work and economic achievements.
We don’t need to feel sorry for any of these millionaires who were duped. They are all still millionaires. More serious than the rich buying superfluous toys is the fact that the culture of validation-through-procession permeates our society. This is both a problem of the rich and the poor. The only difference are the objects of validation. The danger of this is most evident during economically hard times. The validation of one’s existence through material possessions has drastic consequences, especially when one is unable to hold on to such possessions. We have already heard of individuals and families who unfortunately concluded that the loss of their material possessions deprives them from a reason for living.
God recognized this problem from the very beginning. He made us so that we would have this need for validation and He gave us the very source of our value. We don’t need expensive wine to validate our worth. For what can make you more valuable than the very life of the Son of God? As we now know in this declining housing market, the value of a house is meaningless until someone actually buys it. The values banks and tax assessors give to these houses are insignificant. The real value is the selling price. In the same way, whatever value we ascribe to ourselves is meaningless until someone is willing to pay. The good news is that someone did pay. I want to invite you to investigate and share this very good news: That our worth is not found in us but in the One who purchased us with His blood.