What's Mine is Mine
                   by Lois Tverberg

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6:22-23, NIV

In other articles, we've discussed how Jesus' words about one's "eye" were using an idiom from his time that used the "eye" as one's outlook toward life and people. A person with a "good eye" was one who was generous to others, one with a "bad eye" was stingy, greedy and self-centered. So Jesus was saying that a person's entire outlook on life can be assessed by whether he puts others or himself first.

Interestingly another passage from the rabbis reiterates this in a different way. A famous quote from Pirke Avot reads,

There are four types among men:

He who says, "What is mine is mine and what is yours is yours"
— this is the common type, though some say that this is the type of Sodom.
He who says, "What is mine is yours and what is yours is thine own"
— he is a saintly man.
He who says, "What is mine is yours and what is yours is mine"
— he is an ignorant man.
And he who says, "What is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine"
— he is a wicked man. (Pirke Avot 5:13)
1

Here, like in Jesus' words, people are evaluated on their attitude toward others. Some just mind their own business - "what's mine is mine" - these are those who feel that everyone is responsible for their own survival in the world. This seems neutral, but the comment that "some say this is the type of Sodom" means that this attitude can be quite wrong. In the story of Lot's angelic visitors in Sodom, the townspeople did not protect the visitors from thugs who wanted to abuse them - they just said "not my problem." (Gen. 19) That is the idea of the first statement.

The second statement is that the truly righteous person says "what's mine is yours" - meaning that he or she looks for ways to bless others with what they have. They have a constant attitude of "how can I help you?" and other's problems are as much a burden to them as their own. They may be generous with money, but might also be generous with time or energy or anything else. Relatively few people are like this, but we can easily recall fondly who they are because of how they have blessed and loved us.

The last statement is that the absolute worst type of person is one who says, "what's yours is mine" - a person who is wanting to greedly benefit from others. We all know people like this too, who are always plotting a way to get something at someone else's expense. Sometimes we don't realize that sometimes what we call "frugality" is really a way to legitimize having a "bad eye" - always looking at your own wallet and not others by not tipping, trying to underpay people, or going overboard to get deals at others' expense. We should be careful that our pious efforts toward "good stewardship of God's resources" isn't just greed in disguise. A good test is to examine whether our benefit is coming through someone else's loss.

Both Jesus and the rabbis around him are saying that this issue really goes to the heart of who we are as people. Perhaps we should turn our eye on ourselves and examine which type we really are.

1This is one of the "four types" rabbinic sayings that is of the same genre as Jesus' saying about the "four types of soils." This style of teaching is always a subtle call to self-examination, to make a person think about where they are.

     
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6 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights
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