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FIRST-PERSON: Artificial sugar packets & living under grace or law

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)–Are you a thief? You say you wouldn’t steal a nickel?

When I was a teenager, I had friends who thought it was okay to sneak the condiment containers and straw holders out of a local hamburger joint.

More recently, I was planning to take a jelly container out of a restaurant, which has its own label on the jellies. A friend at the table said that was dishonest. She shamed me into not taking it.

So, of course, from that moment I went overboard the other way in condiment circumspection.

Nowadays, I have found myself scolding friends who put packets of artificial sweetener into their pockets or purses so they will not have to buy their own for home use. They do the same with cracker packets and dingles of jelly. (You know, those little aluminum packets.)

They argue back that such containers placed on the table are thrown away when the table is cleaned when we leave.

And then, I realize–right now–what difference does it make? Jesus said something about me when he complained that I fuss about a speck in another’s eye while I have a log in mine. That commentary begins with Jesus saying, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”

Which, of course, means that now that I have made myself pure, I can judge others. Doesn’t it?

Okay, maybe Jesus knows better than to give me judging powers over others. Actually, it’s good for you, too. I wouldn’t be so forgiving. A simple asking of forgiveness and a decision to turn from your old ways wouldn’t be enough for me. I’d make you crawl. Beg. And then I wouldn’t promise forgiveness. I’d tell you that I hadn’t decided about you yet.

Come on, admit it. Hasn’t there been someone you wanted to lord it over? Someone who wronged you? And you would relish threatening them with perdition.

Actually, there are people who believe in a god like that. But that’s not what this discussion is about.

This discussion is about my fastidiousness concerning condiments. It’s the artificial sugar packets that really rankle me. Now that I finally weigh enough to actually use them, they’ve become more important than ever.

You do understand that the sugar packets are a vastly different issue from motel soaps and shampoos, don’t you? Certainly, they mean for us to take them. If I’m staying several days in one motel, I hide the shampoos in my bag so they’ll put more in the bathroom. And the pens. I do believe it’s wrong to take the shower curtains. At my house I have glass shower doors, so I don’t really need the motel curtains.

A friend just told me she knows a millionaire who empties the sugar containers at restaurants and fills his pockets. He’s a Christian, I might add. That’s boggling. How does he live with himself?

And while we’re back at the restaurant, if several packets are on the table, should you put them back into the rack, or let the table cleaner throw them away — or just take them home? Where lies my responsibility?

Okay, here’s what I think is really going on. This is my moment of clarity: I want to do it, too. I want the same freedom to take those packets without another thought. Since I have a niggling conscience, I wouldn’t enjoy it. So I want to make certain that no one else does, either.

But I don’t take them — not because the law says not to, but because grace lets me decide for myself, then live with whatever consequences come along.

And that is what is wrong with living under the law and not grace. Of course, if I really wanted to steal sugar packets, I could sneak some while someone was saying grace. And nobody would ever know about my log. Except me.
Nicholas is a writer with the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board in Jackson and an adjunct journalism professor at Mississippi College.

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  • Tim Nicholas