“You shall not steal.”
The seventh commandment given to Moses is a sentence of a mere four words. But it would take a book to explain it. In these hard times, when families are struggling and perhaps going without, how do you make ends meet?
It must be exasperating for parents to hear their children crying of hunger. When thinking of the millions of refugees on the move in Europe, African and Asia, who feeds them? Humanitarian aid reaches a minority. How do the others survive? The homeless in Cook Islands abandoned by their families and the community, how do they survive?
What is regulated by the seventh commandment, “you shalt not steal” in Exodus 20:15, is that the commandment not only forbids taking something away from another person, it also requires the just management and distribution of the earth’s goods; it regulates the question of private property and the distribution of the proceeds from human work.
Appropriating someone else’s goods unjustly is a sin against the seventh commandment even if the act cannot be indicted under civil law. What is unjust in God’s sight is unjust.
The seventh commandment, of course, applies not only to stealing but also to the unfair withholding of a just wage, the keeping of found items that one could give back, and defrauding in general.
The seventh commandment also pertains to the following: setting employees to work in inhumane conditions, not abiding by contracts into which one has entered, wasting profits without any consideration for social obligations, artificially driving prices up or down, endangering the jobs of colleagues for whom one is responsible, bribery and corruption, misleading independent co-workers into illegal actions, doing shoddy work or demanding inappropriate remuneration, wasting or negligently managing public property, counterfeiting or falsifying accounting records, or tax evasion.
Today we are faced with globalisation. It affects how we deal with one another. “As society becomes more globalised, it makes us neighbours, but does not make us brothers and sisters.” (Pope Benedict XVI)
So it is important we return to the teaching of Jesus Christ on relating to those around us as our brothers and sisters.
Love for the poor must be in every age the distinguishing mark of Christians. The poor deserve not just a few alms; they have a claim to justice.
In our church we are taught the “corporal works of mercy”. The works of mercy are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned and bury the dead. (Matthew 25:31-46)
I am no expert on Cook Islands custom and I am confident many of you will know what you have been taught from your elders with regards to custom. All I hope to do is to prompt your memory to recall it. Two recent incidences come to mind to start you thinking.
Last year we had an abundance of fish, “ature”. If I understand it correctly, this fish ought not to be sold. What you couldn’t eat you left for someone else to take home. In other words it was shared around.
I was also told, when touring on Mangaia, if you are walking along a road, you can eat the fruit on the side of the road.
When I worked in Vanuatu we had a parish of 3000 people with only one water source. At first people kept digging up the pipes so that water couldn’t reach another village. A few got all the water.
Then the priest discovered in custom that if your enemy was at the waterhole you could not kill him. He had the right to drink water in peace.
When this was pointed out to the parish they accepted the custom that allowed all to receive the water in the parish.
Those who make profits must take some responsibility that profits are distributed fairly throughout society. Before globalisation, all profit would have remained in the country. Today with our international banks, telecommunications and some of our hotel industry.
Secondly, in the current economic packages available in the Cook Islands during Covid-19, it is my opinion that some of the real poor may still fall through the cracks.
So as Christians we have the responsibility to reach out to the poor. All too often I hear, ‘it is the duty of the family to provide’. Or, ‘why do these people not get a job?’ Little do we realise that some needy people have needs beyond the resources of their family. These people have difficulties that make them unemployable.
If we continue to pretend there is no problem, don’t be surprised stealing increases.
Hunger needs immediate solutions. It doesn’t wait until Internal Affairs is open. Hunger strikes at weekends. It doesn’t go away after one handout.