Summary: The 8th commandment forces us to look at our attitude towards possessions and our accountabilty to God
“IT’S A STEAL, BUT NOT A BARGAIN! “
We visited the Norman Rockwell Museum in Philadelphia and nostalgia gripped us as we remembered those great covers on The Saturday Evening Post. One of my favorites pictured an encounter in a butcher shop. A woman shopper and a butcher faced each other with a turkey on the scales between them. Each had the pleased smile of someone who is in on a private joke. A careful look shows the butcher’s heavy thumb on the scales, while the customer pushes up on them with a dainty forefinger.
Were they thieves? Neither would rob a bank or steal a car. Each would be indignant if accused of stealing, but neither saw anything wrong with a deception worth only a few cents for either of them. James Bere of Berg-Warner said to Time magazine: “There’s a definite problem. Many of the young people who come in to work for us don’t know right from wrong.” [Time, August 15, 1988].
In the United States department store pilferage exceeds $4 billion a year. One estimate says that of every fifty-two customers a day one carries away at least one unpaid-for item, and the number is rising. Then there are the tax cheats, the double-dippers on welfare, the millions stolen through telephone and computer misuse, and those who steal with impunity from their employers.
Schemes, scams and swindles are a way of life today. Sophisticated deal makers like like several recent high-powered executives, and penny-ante con artists invade every community. A man on crutches hobbled over to a passerby and asked for money. The charitable pedestrian handed him a dollar bill with the remark, “Cheer up. It would be much worse if you were blind.” “I know,” he responded. “I was blind last week and kept getting phony money!”
Every rip-off costs you and me. Honest consumers pay the price for this dishonesty and cheating, and covering the cost is no bargain!
I. ATTITUDES TOWARD POSSESSIONS
The eighth commandment, “You shall not steal,” infers God’s approval of private property ownership. You cannot steal property from a person if he doesn’t own it. Seventeen of Jesus’ thirty-six parables in the New Testament speak of property and ownership.
The parable of the Good Samaritan can be outlined by the attitudes it demonstrates toward property and riches. The story begins in Luke 10:30: A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. The robbers’ attitude was, “What’s yours is mine: I’ll take it.”
That’s the attitude of the businessperson who pads an expense account. Those who cheat on their income tax, or purchase goods on credit with no possibility or intention of paying for them are also guilty. Cheating on a test robs other students as well as yourself. “You’ve worked hard for your score, but what’s yours is mine, and I will take the grade I don’t deserve.”
It’s a pervasive attitude. A wife complained to her husband one evening, “The housekeeper has stolen two of our brand new towels.” He replied, “Well, some people are just like that. Which ones did she take?” The wife said, “The ones we took from the hotel last week.”
Look at a second attitude from the parable of the Good Samaritan: “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31-32). These men illustrate the attitude, “What’s mine is mine, and I’ll keep it.” You can steal by doing nothing. The person who can work, but chooses to live off the government is a thief. The person who witnesses on the job and fails to give a day’s work for a day’s pay steals. It is robbery to deprive another person of opportunity. Isaiah pronounced woe on those who stole the dignity of others: Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless (Isaiah 10:1-2).
When we allow inequity and injustice, we rob the poor. Unfair laws and favoritism are a form of stealing with the attitude, “I’ve got mine, and you can go hang.”
A third attitude is portrayed in Jesus’ parable. The Good Samaritan exemplified the attitude Jesus approves:
A Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have’ (Luke 10:33-35).