“You shall not steal.” Exodus 20:15 (Big Ten Series)
Growing up in the small town that I did, there wasn’t always a lot to do. Your options were even more limited if you couldn’t drive, so we took our excitement where we could get it.
When I was 13 or 14, I was hanging out with a bunch of other kids who were as bored as I was and whose parental supervision was more lax than my own. These were the kind of kids your parents tell you are a “bad influence.” (While that is true to an extent, the truth is we could all be bad influences on each other!)
One of those friends suggested one day that we go and walk around the local big box store. We had to walk to it, of course, and somehow along the way, someone decided to add an extra exciting challenge to this trip. The challenge: to steal something from the store and not get caught. It was stupid. It was wrong, and I knew it — but it was heart-poundingly exciting.
I walked out of the store that day with my first Compact Disc. I didn’t even have a CD player. I got home and hid that CD in my room. I didn’t sleep a wink that night; I felt so horrible about stealing it. The next day, I grabbed some money out of my piggy bank and walked back down to the store. I went to the service desk and asked to see the manager. I told her what I had done, gave her the CD, and offered to pay for it.
The manager was far more gracious and forgiving than I’d dared to hope. Because the disc was unopened and undamaged, she didn’t make me pay for it. In fact, she thanked me for my honesty (that actually made me feel even worse). But I did sleep a lot better that night.
When we think about stealing, that is typically the kind of thing we think about: shoplifting, taking something from a store or neighbor. Stealing means taking something that doesn’t belong to us, that’s is true. But we can also steal intangible things.
One of the big intangibles that we steal is joy. We see someone enjoying something, and we rip on it. We make fun of whatever it is and it makes them feel bad for enjoying it. For instance, we all have the neighbor who will have their Christmas lights up as soon as Halloween is over. We might make comments and make them feel self-conscious about their joy. Or maybe we pick on those who get really excited about fall because you can get pumpkin spiced everything just about everywhere. We make fun of each other’s favorite music or TV shows, for no other reason then, sometimes, we just like to rain on people’s parades.
If we think about it, even a little bit, we will discover that there are people who we steal time, or energy, or even peace from. It’s not always intentional. We can do it without even realizing it. We need to pay attention to how we are affecting others.
This commandment, when it was first chiseled into stone, covered the theft of goods or property or money. I don’t know that the idea of theft was as nuanced as we can see it today. And while Jesus never directly addresses this commandment in the gospels we can assume, by the way he addresses and displays nuance with the others, that he would think the same way about stealing. Jesus would challenge us to broaden our definitions and go even further in doing no harm to others.
I trust that none of you are out seeking thrills by stealing things from retail outlets. But that doesn’t mean the don’t need to consider this commandment as we move about our lives. Taking someone’s joy, hope, energy peace can do even more lasting damage than anything else.
Holding on to joy,