The Seventh Commandment – You Shall Not Steal: Commentary by Sr. Lucia of Fatima

by admin on September 4, 2011

“You shall not steal* (Ex 20, 15)

God forbids us to steal, because stealing is an act of injustice; it is unjust to take possession of something which does not belong to us.  Such an act is contrary to God’s justice; hence, He tells us: ” You shall not covet your neighbour’s house… Nor anything else that belongs to him” (Ex 20, 17).

“You shall not covet your neighbour’s house”  With this commandment God forbids us to covet what belongs to our neighbour; and, if we do not covet, we will not steal either, because it is covetousness which leads to theft.

If we do not have all that we need – and if we are able-bodied – we must work seriously and honourably to earn it. In fact, anyone who, de­spite good health and appropriate age, does not work, fails to observe the law of work imposed by God on the whole human race: « The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.» (Gen 2, 15).

In the beginning, when God gave this command to man, work was a form of entertainment and recreation: but, after man sinned by disobey­ing the order which God had given him not to eat the fruit of the forbid­den tree, the command to work was felt as a penance and a punishment for the sin committed. «And Lord commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die. (…) So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate. (…) And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.» (Gn 2,16; 3,6.17-19).

Thus, according to this sacred text, because of the sin of the first hu­man beings, we are all subject to the law of work and to temporal death: “By the sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground from which you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gen 3, 10). I say that we were subjected to temporal death, since we were ransomed from eternal death by the Redemption wrought by Je­sus Christ. Now, in order to be saved, it only remains for us to co-operate with the grace which He has won for us.

The only exceptions to the law of work are children, because they have not yet the necessary physical strength, helpless invalids, and those who, because of their age and the work they have done in the past, have exhausted their strength. To provide what is necessary for these is the task of all those who are bound in justice to do so, especially those who are now enjoying what was gained by the effort and sacrifice of those who can no longer work; this is the charity of all who understand and love their neigh­bour. In this way, all will be able to live, seriously and honourably, as broth­ers and sisters, children of the same Heavenly Father, without transgressing his commandment: ” You shall not steal”.

There are so many and such different ways of stealing that it is impos­sible for me to enumerate them all here, but I will mention a few. Thus, in business, it is stealing to charge more than a just price for any goods, per­haps taking advantage of need, or of our neighbour’s ignorance. On the part of those who work and receive payment for it, it is stealing not to give the proper amount of time to our work and not to work with the diligence and perfection required if things are to be done properly. And, on the part of those who are served by these workers, it is stealing not to pay them their due, and in good time.

To steal is to deprive others of their legitimate rights, either by op­pressing them in such a way that they cannot use something to which they are entitled, or depriving them of their freedom as the free beings that they are, since God created them thus, or in any other way whatsoever.

It is also stealing to deceive our neighbour, by selling goods as of high quality when in reality they are damaged or worthless, selling animals which appear to be healthy and perfect but are really sickly or defective.

God has forbidden all these forms of stealing, saying to us: « You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to another.* (Lv 19, 11). And St. Paul recommends the observance of this commandment in the following words: «give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need. (Eph 4, 27-28). And he says in another place: «Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us (…) For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If any one will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busy-bodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living.* (2 Thess 3, 6. 10-12). The Apostle bids us not to associate with those whose bad habits are known to us, those who break God’s laws, because they will lead us into evil ways and ruin us. And he exhorts us, if we ourselves have got into bad habits, to amend our ways, beginning once more to work honestly, in order to earn our living and help our neighbour in need.

Another type of theft is when we rob someone of their good name.  Slandering our neighbour, depriving him or her of the esteem and confi­dence of others is one of the most serious kinds of theft we can commit, because we steal what we all value above all else, our good name, our hon­our, the confidence and appreciation of others, thereby placing the person in a difficult situation, both in his or her private life as well as in his or her public and social affairs.

Condemning all this, God declares to the sinner:

What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.  If you see a thief, you are a friend of his; and you keep company with adulterers. You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself.  But now I rebuke you, and lay charge before you.» (Ps 50 (49),16-21). And the psalmist concludes: «Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I rend, and there be none to deliver!» (Ps 50(49), 22).

Let us accept this divine reminder because what is involved is our eternal salvation.  Let us make sure that our life with God is all that it should be by our faithful and constant observance of his law and his word which is his Word incarnate, Jesus Christ our Saviour: «He who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.» (Jn 5, 24).

Ave Maria!

Click Here to see the List of The Ten Commandments with 122 Questions to Examine Your Conscience with.

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