The author Max Lucado related the story of some clever thieves who were able to rob a department store in a large city without hiding any items in purses or clothes or taking a single item from the store that was not checked out by a clerk. They received a receipt for everything they stole.
The band went to the store, dispersed and, like other shoppers, quietly browsed through the merchandise. Unlike other shoppers, they furtively removed barcode tags from less costly items and swapped them for the tags on pricier items. They exchanged the tag on a $395 camera for the tag on a box of stationary. They put the price tag from a paper-back book on an outboard motor. Then they left the store without taking a thing.
When the store opened the next morning, there were displaced price tags everywhere. One would expect chaos to ensue but, surprisingly, the store operated normally for some time. A few customers (the thieves were likely among them) got away with steals while others, outraged by what they considered ridiculous prices, refused to make purchases. It took four hours before management noticed the mix-up.
Something is happening in the larger world that mirrors that department store. A hoax has been played on us that has been generations in the making. Price tags on values have been switched and few people have taken notice. Possessions are treasured more highly than people. Greater importance is attached to careers than to children. Fulfillment is esteemed above faithfulness.
The results have been tragic. Marriage covenants have been broken or ignored. Children have grown up without parental guidance or involvement. Families have borne the crushing weight of perpetual debt in a never-ending pursuit of happiness.
And it goes on and on. We need cars and more cars, so that our family members can each go in a different direction. We need cell phones so that we can work constantly, while “staying in touch” with spouses and children, thereby assuaging our consciences but damaging our relationships. We work constantly so we can afford the things we need to work constantly.
To be educated and attain wisdom was once a worthy aspiration. For millions now, education’s value is measured solely in terms of job prospects and income potential. It is just a means to an end, with no inherent value. No wonder public education is in crisis.
We must have the latest thing, view the newest viral video, and see the movie the critics call riveting. As a culture, we are addicted to the consumption of all things new. We buy things we never needed before and can now no longer live without. The rock band The Guess Who understood this when, a generation ago, they sang, “I really don’t want it ’cause I don’t want to need it.” It is a lesson we should all learn.
The costliest switch in our values is the price tag placed on God. He’s gone on clearance. His value is now so low that people can have him without any sacrifice on their part. At a price like that, he can be purchased just in case he is needed. He can be stored in the closet – or the sanctuary – until then.
If anyone is going to notice the switch and raise the alarm, it will be the students of Jesus. He foresaw and cautioned against the dynamics that are playing out in our world: living for “likes”; advertising one’s successes; being driven to accumulate more and better possessions; the transposition of values; the deception of “influencers.” He warned of the terrible possibility that the “light in you” – the things one thinks good – might, in reality, “be darkness.”
Jesus’s students must do more than tell people that the price tags have been switched; they must live in the light of the true value of things. They need to invest more in their homes than in their houses, more in people than in possessions, and more in a relationship with God than in the pursuit of success. If they do these things, they will stick out like a sore thumb. Or perhaps like a lovely flower.
First published by Gatehouse Media