Sandy and Rick Jones traveled with Dustin and Leslie, Mattie, and Sara through the state of Mississippi during the Christmas holidays, walking through cemeteries in the pouring rain, tracing down leads from records of their ancestors obtained in old courthouses.
They drove to Port Gibson, Mississippi, a place that Sherman found so beautiful he did not burn during the Civil War, and there they found the old plantation where Rick’s great, great, great-grandfather, Joseph C. Jones, once worked 144 slaves.
They met Cicely Jones Mathis, a cousin that Rick had never met, who now lives on the plantation. She showed them the gracious hospitality the South is known for and was kind enough to give them a tour of the property.
As with most large plantations in the Deep South, this one once had a large plantation home, but it was long since gone, lost to a fire back in the late 1800’s.
As Cicely was talking to Leslie at the site of the old plantation house, Sandy and Rick were taking their own stroll several yards away and a piece of metal caught Sandy’s eye.
She reached down and unearthed an old doorknob. What it once was attached to, no one knows, but it certainly was once attached to a door inside that plantation house.
Sandy was immediately faced with a dilemma. She could have quietly slipped that doorknob in her pocket or her purse. “Finders keepers, loser weepers,” that’s what we used to say on the playground.
So Sandy looked at Rick and said, “Do you want to have this?”
Rick said, “Yes, I do. I would love to have it. I wonder how many hands down through my family have turned that doorknob.”
Sandy said, “I could just put it in my pocket.”
Rick said, “You could but that wouldn’t be right.”
Sandy said, “You are right. That would be stealing.”
So before they left Sandy said to Cicely, “Look what I have found. I’d like for you to have it.”
“Oh, an old doorknob,” she said. “Oh, honey, I don’t want that. You can have it.”
With those words, Sandy gave her a big hug. Sandy gave the doorknob to Rick. Rick unselfishly gave it to Leslie, who was surprised with the gift as they left. A remnant of history, a connection to family, a doorknob to one’s imagination.
Sandy and Rick both knew if Sandy had slipped the doorknob into her pocket without saying anything, she would have taken something that didn’t belong to her. No, she would not have broken into a house, robbed anyone at gunpoint, or extorted money. But technically, she would have taken something that wasn’t hers. She would have been stealing.
We are familiar with the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not steal” Exodus 20:15. This is a basic commandment that all major religions recognize and it is one of the moral laws basic to civilized society.
People have a basic right to own property and other people have no right to take someone’s property by force or otherwise, just because they want it. Our property is an extension of ourselves, so when people violate, abuse, or take our property, our ideas, or our words, we feel violated and abused.
Jack Purcell had a nice 3-hp Evinrude motor that he had rebuilt. He promised it to his grandson Cason. One day Cason decided he’d stop by his grandfather’s house and pick it up. He had a little Jon boat that the motor seemed perfect for. They walked out to the tool shed to retrieve the motor and it was gone, lifted by a thief. Not only was Jack robbed of a motor but he was also robbed of the satisfaction and joy of giving the gift to his grandson. Cason was robbed of the joy of remembering his grandfather each time he cranked up the motor and set it down in the water.
Our property is an extension of ourselves. That’s why we feel violated and threatened when someone takes our stuff. We grieve and have anger because we’ve lost income and the hours of work it took to earn the money to purchase what was lost. Our space and privacy is violated. We miss the sentimental attachment we place on our things and the security that our valuables give us.
Those who break in and steal other people’s property know they are breaking the law and I suspect most would have some understanding that they are breaking a moral code, even one of the Ten Commandments.
We learn this in our sandbox years. Even if no one tells children about God or about God’s laws called the Ten Commandments, a basic moral code exists among us and all children are taught it–that we should not take things that do not belong to us.
Carolyn Warnemuende, a child psychologist, says that by the time children reach the age of five, they know if they take something that does not belong to them, it is wrong. http://www.informedparent.com/legacy/article-transitional.html?whenchildrensteal1
Can you imagine the kind of chaos that would exist if we lived in a world where we could take anything we wanted just because we wanted it?
You might never drive the same vehicle more than a few times because someone would always be taking yours, unless you drove a clunker. You might come home to find squatters had moved into your house, just because they wanted it. Stores couldn’t operate because people would just walk in and take what they wanted. You couldn’t plant a garden because people would just help themselves. People would try to take each other’s spouses because they got tired of their own and someone else’s was more attractive. I guess that happens sometimes anyway.
As adults, we know that God’s law, “Do Not Steal,” is an important law that serves as part of the glue for society. It helps set boundaries so that there can be peace and prosperity, respect and responsibility, honor and honesty.
However, if you look closely at the first verse in Leviticus six, there is something much more basic about this moral law than just holding our society together. Moses tells us that if we deceive our neighbor regarding something entrusted to us, if we rob, cheat or threaten him, if we find something lost and lie about it, we have betrayed our trust with God.
So if we take something that does not belong to us, our first violation is not against the other person, or society, but against God.
Some children learn while they are still playing in the sandbox that their lives are a gift from God and that God watches over them, knows them, and nothing they do or say goes unknown or unnoticed by God. These children develop a conscience. More importantly, they begin to hear and learn to recognize the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit.
In the day of Moses, it was the Law that did all the leading and guiding for the people. Words we read in the book of Leviticus were their guide and their conscience.
There are many examples of what to do when laws were broken in order to restore a right relationship with God. In this case, people were to admit their mistake, return to the victim what they took or give him or her something of equal value, plus give the victim 20% more.
This gave the relationship a chance at renewal. It showed remorse and that the person had taken responsibility for his or her actions.
In order to make things right with God, people were required to bring an unblemished ram to the priest as a sacrifice. The priest then made the sacrifice on the people’s behalf before God and they left the altar released from their burden of sin and guilt.
So when we take something that doesn’t belong to us, we sin against those we steal from and against God.
So when you cheat on an exam, you have taken an answer that does not belong to you. You have an answer that someone else worked hard to learn and have stolen it and presented it as your own.
Any time you turn in a paper that someone else has written you have presented ideas that are not your own.
Most who cheat believe that there is no victim. Most think they can justify doing it. Exam cheaters think that it doesn’t hurt anyone. Of course that’s not true. Every person that competed on the exam fairly was cheated by the dishonesty.
We hurt the teacher whose trust we’ve violated. We have hurt ourselves by our lack of preparation and unwillingness to accept a lower grade because of our failure to be prepared. This often proves to be a slippery slope to future cheating and dishonesty.
Any time we should be doing our job and we are not, we should asking, “Am I stealing time from my boss, my employer, or my company?”
In one of my first jobs we had a time card. When we came in we punched our card and when we left we punched our card. We were paid for the time that was on our card. These clocks were meant to pay workers for time worked. It helped keep people on time and people from leaving early because if you didn’t work, you didn’t get paid.
That didn’t mean some days there wasn’t still a little goofing off here and there. I remember one summer day when we were working in the wood yard stacking lumber. It was about 95 degrees. There was little shade and we were not happy about our assignment so we just quit for a while and found some shade. When the boss man drove up about 15 minutes later, we had some explaining to do. As soon as we saw him drive up, we knew he caught us stealing his time.
If you shave time off the front end or back end, take long lunch breaks and don’t make this time up, you are taking time that doesn’t belong to you. Many people justify it because they don’t feel they are paid enough or they don’t get enough time off. But when we agree to a certain wage for a certain amount of work time, we are supposed to honor it and our integrity is part of our witness.
Spending time on the Internet for personal issues, prolonged socializing, and using business hours to conduct personal business are all examples of how easy it is to take time from our employers that doesn’t belong to us.
Perhaps you have heard the expression, “steal a glance,” or “steal a look.” When we allow our eyes to go where God does not intend for them to go, we have stolen a glance at an object or at someone for our own satisfaction to quench the lust in our hearts, but it only fans the flame for more. When we allow ourselves these momentary glances, we open ourselves up for Satan to come in and steal our goodness away.
So there are many ways that we can break the Eighth Commandment. We don’t have to be caught with an object in our possession that is not ours in order to take something that does not belong to us.
When we’ve taken from others, there’s still a place for restitution. The right thing is to return what we’ve taken, if that is possible, which it isn’t always. Sometimes the price for taking something from someone is a broken relationship. Only with grace and forgiveness can that relationship eventually be restored.
To have one’s soul restored in the day of Moses, a person had to bring an unblemished ram to the priest as a sacrifice. Such an act was a way of acknowledging one’s sin to the priest who offered the sacrifice to God. God gave the priest the authority to pronounce the person’s sins forgiven.
Today God gives that authority to Jesus. God accepts Jesus’ death on the cross as atonement for our sins. Whatever you have taken that doesn’t belong to you, God wants to forgive you of it. If it’s possible to return it to its owner, God would expect that of you. If you can make restitution, God would expect that of you as well.
While others might not be so forgiving, God is forgiving, and in order for that to happen, God wants access to your life.
You are the only one who can allow the Lord access to your life.
Jesus said, Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” Rev. 3:20 (NRSV).
There is no doorknob on the outside of your heart. Jesus doesn’t force his way in. That would make him a thief. He doesn’t take what isn’t His. You must give your life to Jesus.
The only doorknob is on the inside. You are the only one who can open the door of your heart and let Jesus in.
You might say, “Oh, I did that years ago.”
Yes, and when a married couple says, “I do” to each other that’s not the last time they open their hearts to each other either. If it is, the marriage dies.
There is a continued relationship, and a continued exchanging of vows, but it’s done through a daily commitment of caring, loving, giving, sharing, and sacrificing.
That’s the reason Jesus said that if we want to be his disciples we are to take up our cross daily and follow him. We must continually let Jesus into our hearts to have the relationship with Him that is fruitful.
If you are taking things that do not belong to you, that’s a sign you don’t have your hands on the cross. You can’t take things that don’t belong to you if you’ve got your hands on the cross of Jesus.
Today, as you hear Jesus knocking on your door, open the door and invite him in. Confess your sins. Let go of whatever it is that doesn’t belong to you. Pick up the cross of Jesus. Thank Jesus for being the sacrifice that covers your sins and restores your soul in the eyes of God.