An Atlanta businessman boarded MARTA to make his daily commute to work. He stood in the crowded car scanning the newspaper accounts of crime when he felt a stranger bump him. He instinctively felt for the wallet in his back pocket and found it missing. He folded the paper and kept his eye on the stranger who had moved to the opposite side of the car. When the train stopped and the stranger exited, he followed. His rage continuing to grow, he grabbed the stranger and threw him up against the wall. His face crimson with wrath he demanded, “Okay Bub, hand over that wallet.” The stranger, trembling, placed the wallet in his hand. Without looking the businessman shoved the wallet into his pocket and stomped off to work. When he arrived at his office his secretary stopped him. “You have a message from your wife,” She said. “You left your wallet on the night stand at home!”
I suppose all of us have been victims of theft. Shortly after we married we drove to Houston to visit my wife’s mother in the hospital. I left our car parked on the street filled with our clothes on hanging rods. When we returned, we were clothes-less. Most of us have lost bicycles at college. Some have had home break-ins with far more serious losses. My wallet fell out of my pocket at a theater once. I found it a few days later, sans cash and credit cards.
Theft is widespread. Every day the eighth commandment is broken: “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15).
The first step in respecting other people is respecting property. It is one of the first lessons we teach to toddlers. Some toys belong to them. Some toys belong to their friends. It is not an easy lesson for a toddler, and some never learn it.
The Atlantic cited a study that concluded that out of 1 million self-check transactions totaling $21 million, merchandise totaling $850,000 left the store without being scanned.
The rich and the well-off are just as guilty as the poor, maybe moreso. We only need launch a Google search for a list of celebrities who have been convicted of shoplifting. White collar crime is rampant. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners estimated businesses lost $895 billion to fraud in 2016.
As always, Jesus raised the commandment to another level. We have not fulfilled the heart of the commandment when we refuse to take something that does not belong to us. We fulfill the commandment when we move beyond seeing property and possession as primary. People are primary. Jesus said, “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well … give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:40-42).
We can keep the eighth commandment and still live a selfish and self-centered life.
The Bible says, “Give generously and do so without a grudging heart; then, because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded.” (Deuteronomy 15:10-11).