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Summary: Stealing is so prevalent and we need to make a difference in Christ’s name.

Exodus 20:15

June 14, 2009

What’s Yours is Mine


In his book on the Ten Commandments, Cecil Myers, described a painting by Norman Rockwell showing a woman buying her Thanksgiving turkey. The turkey is lying on the scale and the butcher is standing in back of the counter, apron pulled tight over his stomach, a pencil tucked behind his ear. The customer, is a well dressed lady about sixty, watching the weigh-in. Each of them has a pleased look on their face as though each knows a secret joke. Rockwell lets us in on the joke by showing us their hands. The butcher is pushing down on the scale with his big thumb. The woman is pushing up on the scale with her dainty finger. Neither is aware what the other is doing.

Cecil Meyers wrote about that painting saying, "Both the butcher and the lovely lady would resent being called thieves. The lovely lady would never rob a bank or steal a car. The butcher would be indignant if anyone accused him of stealing; and if a customer gave him a bad check, he would call the police. But neither saw anything wrong with a little deception that would make a few cents for one or save a few cents for the other."

Rockwell gives us a picture of how we seek to live, trying to manipulate life for our advantage. The Ten Commandments remind us that there are eternal laws which we must live by.

What if you receive too much change from the cashier and you know it. Or you weren’t charged a lesser amount for an item. What do you do? Do you say nothing and walk away, assuming they probably overcharged you for something else? Or do you tell the cashier? Because you know if they overcharge you, you will certainly let them know. So if we tell them when they overcharge us, would it make sense to tell them if they undercharge us? If we know about it and don’t tell the cashier, are we stealing?

You see, when we think of stealing, we think of people like Bernie Madoff who defrauded people of over $65 billion, or Charles Keating in the late 1980’s of about $285 million. We think about people who have lied and cheated so that they could swindle, embezzle and defraud. We don’t include ourselves in that definition of a thief. Yet, stealing can take many shapes, sizes and amounts. Ranging from $1 to millions. Does our Lord condemn the one and turn His cheek at the other?

When Charles Keating was convicted, his defense team brought out his children and grandchildren; and they wept before the judge, saying, “We love our grandpa. He’s a good man. If he goes to prison he’ll die there. We won’t get to grow up with him or spend time with him. Please don’t do this to him.” Those are heart wrenching words, but do you think Charles Keating ever thought about the consequences of his actions? Do you think he ever imagined a tearful court room scene like that? Or Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme forcing 90 year old people to return to work? Obviously not.

Stealing occurs when we take something from someone else without his or her permission with the intent of keeping that item, knowing we should have asked in the first place. Simple stealing is easy for us to understand, and for most of us it isn’t something we engage in on a regular basis. Children have a simple philosophy of life. The way they look at the world, and proclaim, what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine, if I can get to it. Watching children play by themselves or with another child can be pretty entertaining and educational. When children say “mine” we smile and giggle at them, it’s kind of amusing, especially when it’s not your child. Yet, when an adult exhibits this sort of behavior, we shake our heads in disgust. We view this sort of behavior as criminal and sinful.

We are supposed to learn as we grow older, that some things belong to other people and we simply cannot have them. They are not ours to have. If you walk into a bank and demand money, you are a thief. If you stick a candy bar in your pocket and walk out of the store you are a thief. It seems simple doesn’t it? In a way it is just this simple on the surface, but underneath it becomes more complicated. You see, you don’t have to pull a knife or a gun to steal. The eighth commandment applies equally to knowingly taking that extra $1, as well as those assets from a savings and loan.

I wondered why would the Lord make this one of the ten commandments? Why does God not want you to take something that isn’t yours. Obviously, we can say this is wrong. But why include it in a list of restrictions against murder, adultery, and worshiping false gods?

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