250 This is enough of an explanation of what stealing is. Let the commandment not be understood too narrowly. But let it apply to everything that has to do with our neighbors. Briefly, in summary (as in the former commandments) this is what is forbidden: (a) To do our neighbor any injury or wrong (in any conceivable manner, by impeding, hindering, and withholding his possessions and property), or even to consent or allow such injury. Instead, we should interfere and prevent it. 251 (b) It is commanded that we advance and improve his possessions. When they suffer lack, we should help, share, and lend both to friends and foes [Matthew 5:42]. 252 Whoever now seeks and desires good works will find here more than enough to do that are heartily acceptable and pleasing to God. In addition, they are favored and crowned with excellent blessings. So we are to be richly compensated for all that we do for our neighbor’s good and from friendship.

Luther, Large Catechism I:250-252

 

After my sermon a couple of weeks ago, I was asked why I had referred to the government lockdown of businesses as stealing. To consider that, we must first reflect on the Seventh Commandment. In the Small Catechism, you learned that here God instructs you to protect the possessions and income that He has given to your neighbor. God desires that you be content with what He has given you and not scheme to take your neighbor’s property in a way that may appear right or in any dishonest way. Instead, He commands that you help and be of service to him in keeping it so that you improve and protect them. There are no exceptions to this, even in the case of the government or someone who feels like it is the right thing to do.

What is the connection to the lockdowns? Consider what the lockdowns have done. While large corporations, strip clubs, and casinos were kept open, many restaurants, bars, and small family-owned businesses have been crippled and forced to close. Owners had their businesses taken from them even though there was no proof that they were spreading the disease. They had to lay off employees, denying them wages. It was not the business, but the government that was stealing the wages. This leads to more stealing as taxes are increased on our neighbors. Work is good and holy under this commandment, but more people are once more living off the government instead of working for the good of our neighbors. Meanwhile, the government chooses to print money which leads to inflation and theft from our neighbor as prices escalate. Before COVID we were at record low unemployment, but lockdowns have forced people back under the umbrella of the government, closed legitimate businesses, and punished our neighbors. To quote Luther, the lockdowns have impeded, hindered and withheld our neighbor’s property.

The argument has been made that this will save lives, but the actual evidence is that depriving our neighbor of his business has not in any way slowed the spread or “saved a life.” States where the lockdowns are harshest have not slowed the number of cases. The actual fact is that people’s lives are being shattered, families are being torn apart because of financial tensions, drug and alcohol use has increased, and suicides are rising to all-time highs. Meanwhile, while I give thanks that we have not hindered people from supporting major corporations who employ our neighbors, we cannot condone the stealing from other neighbors. In the church, we must help our neighbor to improve and protect his property and business because it has been given to him by God. Let us speak up for our neighbor and protest the government selectively stealing from him.

Of course, stealing property and livelihoods has been coupled with stealing lives. Who has suffered the most from this? Who has had the most stolen from them?  The elderly, who have had their families stolen from them to “save lives.” Perhaps, the poor around the world who are being neglected while we who have so much are living in fear of a virus that 99+% of us will survive. And what about the children? Young children are not learning anything but fear and trembling as adults cannot smile and laugh with them, hug them, play with them, and when necessary express their disapproval. Children are not benefitting from in-person learning as many schools have closed. We push them into a bubble and forbid their interaction so that suicides increase. Surely, there are countless others who are falling between the cracks. Lord, grant that we repent of this behavior and wisdom finally prevails so that we once again recognize the importance of a free and open society if there is to be good for our neighbor.


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Host: Fr. Jason Braaten