Monday 26th April 2021 Stewards or Owners of Private Property?
Exodus 20: 15
You shall not steal.
It’s simple enough – just a few words – don’t take what you don’t own.
But when you think a bit harder, the question of ownership is not so simple. Early saints and French anarchists don’t always see eye to eye, but there’s not too much between Proudhon’s “property is theft” and St Ambrose’s “the superfluous property which you hold you have stolen”.
From the Enclosure Acts to the selling of council houses, the question of who owns what has brought about policies that are the harbingers of huge social change, for better or worse. Often such changes bring greater inequality. There are winners and losers. Inequality has been rising for years, and has been exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic. And when the way in which people are valued is so often defined by what they own, the results are divisive and potentially dehumanising.
“The earth is the Lord’s – and everything in it” says the Psalmist. Only take what you need for the journey is Jesus’ message for the disciples as they head out to share the good news. Members of the early Church “had all things in common”.
The concept of stealing is so much wider than breaking and entering. The prophets remind us that not paying the right wages, giving short measure, false dealings in business are all about taking what is not rightfully ours; exploiting others. And Jesus didn’t support tax avoidance either. Go one step further and we need to recognise that the supply chain for goods can involve exploitation. Our cheap goods might mean that we are stealing.
If we truly believe that all things belong to God, and act in the knowledge that we are simply stewards, perhaps we would be people who stand out in the world for all the right reasons.
Generous God, forgive our addiction to ownership. Remind us that all things belong to you. Help us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with you, so that we will be good stewards of all that you have entrusted to us. Amen
The Reverend Clare Downing, Moderator of Wessex Synod and General Assembly Moderator