Summary: With the Seventh Commandment we show love to our neighbor and trust in God to provide.
Today’s Gospel Lesson (John 2:13-22) is jarring isn’t it? Instead of the meek and mild Jesus, we get one with whip in hand driving out cattle merchants and flipping over the moneychangers’ tables. But you can understand Jesus’ anger. After all, these crooked salesmen were taking advantage of worshippers by selling them sacrificial animals at inflated prices right there in the shadow of God’s temple! Such thieves and cheats were deserving of the whip.
Would you say the same thing of the two in this Norman Rockwell painting? A butcher presses down on a chicken-laden scale with heavy hand while the customer pushes up with dainty forefinger. Each wears a pleased smile as if they’re in on a private joke. Are they thieves? No doubt neither would rob a bank nor steal a car. And each would be indignant if accused of stealing, but neither do they see anything wrong with a deception worth only a few cents for either of them. (Dan Jackson)
As we turn our attention to the Seventh Commandment, “You shall not steal,” God gives us an opportunity to come clean of our sins against this command. An outright refusal to do so will earn more than the whip come Judgment Day. Why is God resolute about protecting his gift of possessions? Because by refusing to take what doesn’t belong to us we show love for others, and we also demonstrate our trust in the Savior-God to provide what we need.
With the Seventh Commandment God makes it obviously clear that we shouldn’t rob banks or swipe money from someone else’s wallet. The trouble is when we reach into Mom’s purse to grab a toonie without her consent, we may say to ourselves: “I’ll pay it back.” But we usually don’t because we “forget” that we “borrowed” any money to begin with. When we get used to doing that we may move on to stealing other items. We bring home office supplies from work without our manager’s consent because “They don’t need all that paper anyway,” or “This ought to be one of the perks for being such a good worker.” The problem isn’t that your company or your mother is suddenly going to go broke; the problem is that such actions reveal the sin of selfishness. Martin Luther correctly summarized the Seventh Commandment when he wrote: “We should fear and love God that we do not take our neighbor’s money or property or get it by dishonest dealing, but help him to improve and protect his property and business.”
How well did you do at protecting the property of Avis the last time you rented a car from them? Or did you feel that because it was a rental, you could treat it anyway you wanted to? And how about that hotel room? Did you treat the beds like a trampoline and the TV remote like a football? “Oh, lighten up, Pastor! No one treats a rental car or hotel room as if it’s their prized possession.” Why not? Was Jesus kidding when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself?” According to the Seventh Commandment we show such love not just by being respectful of the person but by protecting their property as well.
Unfortunately it’s only become easier to be a thief in this digital age. Why pay $15 for an album when you can download it for free from that peer-to-peer file sharing website? Why spend $50 a month on cable when you can steal a signal? Can you honestly say that with these actions you’re helping your neighbor protect his property, even if that neighbor is big business or a millionaire musician? And what about the way we get deals off of Kajiji? Are we like this ancient haggler? “‘It’s no good, it’s no good!’ says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase” (Proverbs 20:14). Friends, it’s one thing to shop around to get the best deal so that we’re good stewards of our money, but it’s quite another to take advantage of others in the name of good stewardship. Such sinful selfishness does not go unnoticed by the Lord. The book of Proverbs also records these words: “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Proverbs 14:31).
No, you might not be taking advantage of the “poor” when you download music you haven’t purchased, but what you’re saying is that unless you do this, you yourself may become poor. And you may be right. You might not be able to afford all the things that you would like to have. But that doesn’t mean that it’s OK for us to get them by stealing or by any other form of deception. Perhaps the reason God hasn’t given us the means to purchase everything we would like is because he knows that this wouldn’t be good for us!