We have all encountered them. They are those strange product labels and warning stickers that it seems should be totally unnecessary. I think I've referred to them once before. Do we need to be told for instance that shampoo is for external use only? It would also seem apparent that when attempting to start a chainsaw it is patently unwise to grab the business end of said saw, and yet apparently some machines are affixed with a label that warns against that very practice. It has been suggested that if there is a printed warning against it, that label only proves someone has done exactly what it cautions against. I’m not so sure about that.
What I am sure about is that most people look at some of the Ten Commandments, like thou shalt not steal for instance, and think to themselves, “Of course. We know better than that.” But they are all there, and of course there is always someone who has done each of the ten of them. Thus when we watch the news and witness people in Baltimore rioting in the streets, breaking glass, and carrying armfuls of diapers out of the corner pharmacy we shake our heads. Apparently, those people are either dreadfully desperate or just don’t know any better. Depending on the point of view we adopt, we either pity them or condemn them. In either case we turn off the television and go to bed feeling vastly incapable of identifying with them. It seems it should go without saying, “Warning: Don’t loot,” and yet people do.
Still, most of us don’t. We wake up the next morning and go to our closet or open a drawer and pick out an outfit which we bought and paid for, fair and square. Fair and square that is unless that outfit was sewn together in a sweat shop on the outskirts of Colombo, by third world children who should have been in third grade at the time. Nonetheless we certainly cannot be held responsible for that. We are not directly stealing from those children and what are we supposed to wear anyway? It’s time for work.
To make ourselves feel better on the way to work some of us will need to grab a cup of coffee; fair trade coffee of course so as to alleviate any further pangs of guilt. And the car likely needs gas, so we stop and smugly sip our exceptionally fair coffee as we pump our cars full of gasoline originating from some terrorism-sponsoring Middle Eastern state that routinely deprives its own citizens of basic civil rights. Again, we cannot be held responsible for that. It’s the government’s fault.
Speaking of the government, now that we are finally downtown and walking to the office we, because we’re having a particularly conscientious morning, toss a quarter to the homeless guy who sits hat in hand at the exit of the Metro station every morning. Normally, on mornings when we haven’t read any guilt rendering blogs on our iphones, we just ignore the dude on the assurance that he is probably scamming the system. He’s probably on government welfare and good conservatives like you and I begrudge the fact that our tax dollars are wasted on the irresponsible.
Then our conscience, or is it the Holy Spirit, begins to burn, confronting us with our responsibility “to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). But we don’t know Metro station guy’s situation…and that’s exactly the point. We also bear a certain responsibility to keep from unduly judging others (Matthew 7:1). On the other hand we can’t be expected to simply throw all our money away on the poor. Better pay our taxes then. But we really hate taxes. There has to be a better way of caring for people than that. Shouldn’t the church, couldn’t the church do a better job of doing that? What would that look like?
It’s 9:45 a.m. We have been sitting in your office, surfing the web. World Vision has a child sponsorship program. Wonder how that compares with this one Compassion does. Cute kids. What kind of volunteer opportunities are available at the local homeless shelter on the weekends? Here’s another blog about how fair trade coffee doesn’t really work. What, really? Oh…that stinks. Make a note: next time we go shopping, check the tags before buying the pants. After sitting at a desk in an office for nearly an hour we have accomplished exactly no work, which constitutes theft of our employer’s time. Stealing. Just like the people in Baltimore on the news the other night.
Maybe we’re more capable of identifying with those people, be they desperate or be they ignorant, than we first thought. Yeah…we probably are. Hence the label, thou shalt not steal. Its presence speaks to the reality that this is something we have all done before, often without even thinking about it. We’re a bunch of knuckleheads. Lucky for us Christ doesn’t treat us as we deserve. He’s thrown quarters at us, bills in fact, all over the place to such an extent that it really did cost him everything in the end.