For over thirty years, Carol taught in a Catholic school. We were together last weekend in Florida where she shared stories of how she would catch her students cheating. One such experience could not have been scripted with more ingenuity. Carol explained that sometimes students were required to attend a mid-morning mass. Periodically, my friend served as a eucharistic minister. She assisted the priest by distributing the host into the hands of the communicants who would walk forward at communion time, place their hands together, palms up, so the servers—like Carol– could place the wafer into their hands.
On one such occasion, several of her 8th-grade students began squirming when they ended up in her line. As they held open their hands, Carol knew why: cheater notes were scribbled on their palms.
BUSTED, and of all places, in CHURCH!
Proverbs 11: 1-3 (TLB) reads as follows: The Lord hates cheating and delights in honesty. Proud men end in shame, but the meek become wise. A good man is guided by his honesty; the evil man is destroyed by his dishonesty.
Even though God “hates cheating,” according to a recent survey, only six percent of students say they never have cheated. That means that 94% have, yet who of us isn’t applauding ever so slightly that these frauds were caught ink-handed, as if that sort of mitigates our own deceitfulness.
The fact is, most of us—Christians included– cheat in one way or another. Perhaps it’s that little income tax thing. Or maybe our sales clerk fails to charge us for an item, and instead of returning it to pay what we owe, we chalk it up to “her fault” and celebrate our freebie. A few weeks ago, I was shopping and found an empty jewelry case in a pocket of a blouse. I returned it to the jewelry counter and was told that “this happens all the time.”
Someone always pays when we cheat. The honest student whose paper, graded on the curve, now suffers because the cheaters get the A’s. Our government bears a financial burden when we fail to pay what we owe. The buyer of our car is stilted when we neglect to reveal our vehicle’s shortcomings, and our employer loses when we take “just a couple of extra minutes” for each lunch break. In my late teens, I worked as a nurse’s aide at Mercy Hospital. Although most of the aides were dedicated, one always hid in the utility room whenever a bed pan was involved, leaving the rest of us to do her work. Not cool.
Cheating always costs someone something. Especially God.
As sinners, we cheat. We cheat God out of what He deserves, whether it be praise or money or time or love. We make mad dashes for temporal pleasures and feel-good possessions, but fail to ask if these things pull us away from God. We cough up a buck for a homeless person and pat ourselves on our backs or consider grace before meals ample, with no consideration for what swindlers we are.
Unlike those 8th graders, I’m not sure we even are concerned when we come before God, our hands open in prayer as our black sin-marks are revealed. Could it be that we’re so used to cheating that we fail to realize the price paid by God’s own son for those sins? And could it be that we have lost sight of the grace that covers our transgressions?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s time we squirm just a little.