“You shall not steal.” Exodus 20:15
I think that our small group of women at Grace Chapel was surprised in our discussion of how deep and far-reaching this commandment goes. Many of us tend to think that this commandment is simply saying we should not take anything that rightfully belongs to someone else. But this particular chapter helped many of us to see that “stealing” can be very deep-rooted in one’s culture, particularly the wealthy American one that we all share.
The women of Grace Chapel were asked the following question: “What motivates people to steal?” Here are some of their thoughts:
- Lack of resources (such as money or time) to get what they want or need
- Poverty, lack of money or food
- Apathy for others
- Adrenaline, thrill, peer pressure
- Not knowing that God is sufficient for their needs and that He knows what they need
- Fear (not trust) and greed (not thanksgiving)
- Taking credit for someone else’s hard work
We are part of a culture that glorifies wealth and those who are wealthy. People see many example of institutional theft in our culture – for example, living on land that was stolen from native peoples, buying clothing made in poverty-stricken countries that use slave labor, or buying food at supermarkets that has been harvested by migrant workers who are not even paid a living wage. In our human condition, we tend to want to find “loopholes” in the system and free ourselves from the fact that we may be stealing from people who we have never even met.
But not all wealthy people have gotten that way by stealing from others. Many wealthy people are excellent stewards of their money and give generously to those in need. So who are the “rich” that Jesus was referring to in Matthew 19:23-24? “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
The answer seems to be in the attitude. No matter what your income is, if you are a Christian you are commanded to give and to give generously. Recognizing that Christ has freed us from living under the law, we must now accept that all of our income belongs to God and we are simply to be good stewards of what we have been given. And finally, as Hauerwas and Willimon put it, “So not to be caught by a world of theft requires prayer. The first attitude of prayer is to receive, not to ask, to listen rather than to speak, to be willing by prayer to be formed rather than to use prayer to inform. Through learning to receive, we may be a people capable of sharing.” (pg 114)
For Week 9, please read Chapter 8 on the Eighth Commandment. Following are discussion questions to prepare you for our next meeting:
- What risks do we take when we tell the truth?
- What risks do we take when we lie?
- What gifts did God give us to help us speak the truth?
- How can we help others affirm the truth?
- Why would we rather be polite than truthful?
- What does this commandment reveal about God?