My 4th great grandfather, John Pippen, born in England in 1702, was caught stealing, possibly for food to stay alive. As a 16-year-old common thief, the punishment was either to brand him on the brawn of his left thumb, receive a severe whipping, or ship him as a convicted felon to the colonies in America. He was a strong young man, full of potential.
He got the cruise!
Now I had a choice: to steal an orange to satisfy my hunger, just as the young boy in Oliver Twist, or to remain hungry and morally free. I had not memorized the Ten Commandments, but subconsciously, one was written on my heart. “Thou shalt not steal.”
One Friday as I hopped off the bus, I spied the oranges just staring at me, daring me to taste them. I scanned the store inside and outside for customers that might be looking toward the oranges. The grocery clerk was arranging a display of canned corn, so I casually walked over to the crate, grabbed an orange, hid it in my bib overalls, and then split running as fast as I could until I was out of sight of anyone in the store.
When I got home I hid the orange under my clothes. Monday, when I dressed for school, I carefully uncovered my orange, still in the green paper. I wrapped it in my sweater and took off for the bus.
Lunch time came and I slowly unwrapped the orange. I just stared at it. One of the boys sitting by me wanted to have a piece. I couldn’t even pick it up. I told him I wasn’t hungry. I wrapped it up and walked away.
After school, the bus jostled and bounced me the five miles to my stop. I was hungry, yes, but not hungry enough to eat the stolen fruit.
I got off the bus, looked around and walked to the store. The grocery clerk was busy inside stacking boxes of corn flakes, so I quietly slipped the orange, still wrapped in its green paper, into an empty space between two other oranges carefully propped up, looked around, and left. This time I didn’t run; I just walked slowly with my head held high. My stomach was empty, but my heart was full. I even tried to whistle as I skipped home.
I hadn’t gotten caught, but my conscience had “caught” me. I determined never to steal again.
Stealing is not just taking what belongs to someone else, the orange that belonged to the grocer. It is also taking what belongs to the Lord and consuming it on ourselves. In Malachi 3:8 and 9, God asked Israel, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed me.”
“How have we robbed you?”
“In tithes and offerings.”
They had withheld the required 10 % of their fields and flocks, stored in the Temple Treasury, for maintenance of the Temple and to pay the priests. If the tithe was not paid, the priests did not eat. So in a larger sense, Israel was stealing “oranges” from the priests.
Just as the Israelites may have justified their thievery because their crops yielded poorly that year and fewer lambs were born, I may have blamed thievery in my blood for having taken the orange, but our stealing is not caused by bad blood but by bad hearts.
Excerpted from my childhood Memoir Naked With Clothes On