I don’t possess an ox, a donkey, or a sheep, though I have a car, a computer, and a phone.
This commandment against stealing is worded briefly, but applies widely. There is no object to the word, ‘steal’ in the statement. So when you read, ‘you shall not steal …’, you should add the word(s) appropriate to your situation.
Early attempts to work out what this commandment meant in practice featured oxen, donkeys and sheep (Exodus 21-23 has examples) because they were central to human economic life and flourishing. I don’t need livestock to do my job today, but my car, computer and phone are very important.
This commandment links to others. Previous ones say you must not steal another’s life, or their relationships. Subsequent ones are about the lying that accompanies stealing, and the covetous attitudes that can underpin it. ‘You shall not steal … actively.’ I depend on others not to take things away from me by stealth, and others depend on me for the same. ‘You shall not steal … passively.’ If my neighbour mislays their phone, computer, car, or whatever else they need for economic survival and flourishing, and I know where it is, I must not withhold that information. And yes, the above includes the neighbour I don’t like and/or who does not like me.
Leave me with the things that let me flourish. Bring them to me when I mislay them. I’ll do the same for you, and our society will hold together. It sounds simple, and it’s beneficial, but so wide ranging in application that I won’t measure up every time.
So, I give thanks for all the benefits that flow from keeping God’s gift of a commandment against stealing, and seek God’s forgiveness for the times I fail to keep it.
God of grace and justice, Protect me from those who would steal from me; Protect me from the temptation to steal from others; Whether through things done, or things undone; And forgive me for the times I fall short. Amen.
The Rev’d Trevor Jamison, Minister, Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields