Q: What is the eighth commandment?
A: The eighth commandment is: You shall not steal.
Probably more than any other commandment, kids think they know this commandment. After all, so much of the grievances of their earliest lives have been about possessions: taking, grabbing, sharing, and stealing. They all have experiential understanding of the guilt and hurt associated with theft.
We talked this past Sunday, though, about what might be the attitudes or beliefs behind this temptation. It is, one, a feeling of poverty or inadequacy. Our fallen world has an economy of scarce resources, and our survival instincts tell us to grab and hoard as much as we can. Free market extremists might even say that stealing has merit, may even be an imperative, as long as it’s done within technical bounds.
A second core belief is that we are our stuff. We derive status and personal valuation from what we own, especially relative to what others’ own around us. We see money as a way of keeping score or our consumerism as a statement of our values.
I’m sure there must be others, but I think these two major assumptions lie at the heart of most of our ruthlessness, entitlement, greed, and parsimony.
There’s so much that’s already said on this, not only in sermons, but in the gospels themselves, that I’ll keep my own comments short.
We win, in our salvation, not a lottery but a royal inheritance, an eternal crown to cast at the feet of Jesus. When you win the lottery, you have sudden access to a vast but finite sum of material wealth. Your means have been turbocharged, but your identity, desires, and community, at least at first, remains the same. That extreme change in that single variable, though, threatens to distort everything else: your friendships will be tainted, your desires will balloon, your standing against others has a new context, your sense of self will be put to the test. Everyone will want what you have (not who you are), and you now have to defend your new holdings and decide how to parcel out and manage this mountain of money you’re sitting on.
Our heavenly treasure, however, is devalued by the rest of the world, and it is unlimited. It demands of us not to push others back but to pull them in. It challenges us to evaluate with faith not sight, recognizing a new economy of hope and promise, one of abundance not scarcity, gracious and unconditional atonement not debt. We stand anew in heart and soul and power, a Comforter at hand, as well as a church as family. We look the same as before, but we now a sudden and forever access to the divine—His forgiveness, His redemption, His sanctification, and His glory.
The more we revel in this newfound royalty, the more we should be able to shed our “poor dad” attitudes from before—and the more we should be able to recognize the new attitudes and responsibilities we now need to embrace: magnanimity and patronage, leadership and legislation, protection of the weak, and sharing of our gifts.