Thieves on All Sides
For many years it has been part of the regular liturgy of the church where I serve to pray through the Ten Commandments. The pastor reads a command and the congregation replies, “Lord, have mercy and incline our hearts to keep this Your law.” Time then is set aside for members of the congregation to pray more specifically about these sins before moving on to the next. You could expect prayers against our propensity to turn wealth into an idol, prayers asking for protection for the integrity of our marriages, prayers confessing our unjust wrath against our brother, or our failure to labor more diligently to rescue the unborn.
Truth be told, I usually worried about the eighth commandment. Would anyone pray about this one, or do we really believe we have this one licked? Oh, we put up our bromides about being more diligent at our work. We may flashback to our youth and pilfered candy or cookies. But stealing? That’s so clear, so black and white, so well, juvenile, that surely we’ve grown past this. Stealing is something the very poor or the very rich struggle with, the former illicitly seeking their daily bread, the latter conniving and cheating their way to prosperity.
Do you see the irony? In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus took time to correct the minimalist interpretation of the law favored by the Pharisees. The commandment against murder was more than a prohibition against the premeditated taking of the life of another. It included the heart motivation, the unjust hatred. The prohibition against adultery, He explained, included all manner of things you can do with your clothes on. He explained that the law is broader than we think. (Don’t however, make the too common mistake of flattening all these sins. Lust is a form of adultery, a real sin, rightly categorized as part of adultery, but it is not the equal of an illicit sexual union.)
This, “The issue is in your hearts” approach of Jesus, however, should have already been understood, for the Ten Commandments makes the exact same point. The tenth commandment explains the heart issue of the eighth. Coveting is to stealing what lusting is to adultery. And just as lust leads to adultery, unjust anger to murder, so coveting leads to stealing. With the tenth commandment God told us that the evil resides in our hearts.
But it ties into the rest of the ten as well. For we steal what we idolize. We steal our neighbors’ goods, but also our neighbors’ reputations. We steal honor, respect, position. We steal all the things we covet, because we are thieves. Such ought not surprise us—our first parents’ were thieves as well.
Our elder Brother, however, is not like us in this way. Not only is He no thief, but He gives. He gives His life for ours. He gives us His reputation, His inheritance, His position. As we seek to follow Him more faithfully let us give this: our everlasting gratitude. Lord, have mercy on us, and incline our hearts to keep this, Your law.