“All belong to you, and you to Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).
Property is a source of goodness in the world. Without the right things, we would not exist. Like animals, we need food, air, warmth, and protection. Unlike animals, human needs evolve as history opens up possibilities that our ancestors could not conceive. We take joy as the tree planted long ago shades the porch from the afternoon sun. Paying off the house after years of work brings pride. We finally did it! Since property means livelihood, our well-being can unravel quickly. The pink slip from the boss can demolish the security of a household like a wrecking ball. When parched fields and stunted harvests batter farmers, their loss weighs on the shopper trudging down the aisles.
Paul tells us what we like to hear: the earth belongs to us. With intelligence, we produce a world, employing creatures, energy, and raw materials to make goods that earn a profit. Flexing our muscle, we may succumb to the delusion that our power never ends. If we smash up the environment, we can redesign it, making heaps more money in the process. Our nets are full to bursting! We humans are the one.
Paul wakes us from these cock-eyed dreams. The story does not begin or end with us, since we are not sovereign. We depend continuously on beings both below and above us. Our gifts flow from the source of all, who sits at the end of the table with the lowly ones. It is God who calls us into the deeper waters, where the catch may surprise us. We belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God; when we drift away from being in between, the emptiness won’t go away.
In John Locke’s original state, picking up an acorn mixes my labor with nature and makes the acorn mine. But property that grafts on to the self can become an idol. Is my car really inseparable from me? Property is with us for a while to care for and enjoy. Some day another will paint these walls and wear the coats in my closet. The things around us help to make up the goodness of this world. But only the need that takes us toward God and one another does not end.
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