Not long ago, my daughter asked me to tell her a story before bed. Since we had pretty well worn out the Three Little Pigs, I decided to branch out and tell Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I hadn’t read or heard that story in a long time, but it’s one of those tales that pretty well sticks with you. What could go wrong? We cuddled in her bed, and I began to tell the story of the fair-haired girl, who wandered through the forest and discovered the house of the three bears.
I’m sure you know the story—probably better than I. As the narrative unfolded for my three-year-old, I had Goldilocks enter the house, sit in chairs, eat some porridge, and try out some beds—each time finding one too something, another too something-else, and a third “just right.” As I told the story, a running commentary was sounding in the back of my mind. “What sort of bears leave porridge out too cool? Why is one too hot and another too cold if they’ve all been sitting out for the same length of time? Why do bears eat porridge anyway?” When I got to the end of the story and the bears came home to a sleeping Goldilocks, that commentary must have taken a turn towards the Brothers Grimm because, without really thinking about it, I said, “And Goldilocks woke up to find the bears staring down at her, and then they ate her. And what’s the moral of this story? Don’t take advantage of things that aren’t yours. Goodnight.” I wonder when a child is old enough to have nightmares.
In this morning’s reading from Deuteronomy (6:10-15), we get Israel’s equivalent of the Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Moses says to the people, ‘When the Lord your God brings you into the land…with great and goodly cities, which you did not build, and houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out, which you did not hew, and vineyards and olive trees, which you did not plant…” I don’t know what it’s like to take possession of a city or a land that someone else had already established, but the image that comes to my mind is that of Goldilocks. She finds a house in the woods with everything already set up for her, and she takes it for her own. Never does she stop to think, “Hey, I wonder whom this stuff belongs to.” She never says, “Wow, what a treasure! This is great.” Nor does she consider whether the homeowners will return eventually to eat their porridge. She just enters and takes.
Israel, being led into the Promised Land by their God, is invited to enter and take. But the people of God are not to do so blindly. “When you get there,” Moses says, “take heed lest you forget the lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” In other words, Moses reminds God’s people of the gift they are about to receive. It is just that—a gift. Only by God’s provision are the people of Israel able to enter a land and take possession of all its riches. They will not have hewn the cisterns or planted the fields. Someone else did that for them, and that they will enjoy it for their own is a gift of God.
I’ve never colonized a war-torn area or stumbled upon a deserted house in a forest. But I have enjoyed God’s provision each and every day of my life. For me, though, it’s a lot harder to remember that the food I eat, the house I live in, the family I love, and the job I enjoy are gifts of God. They seem a lot more like my work than God’s gift, but that’s a fallacy of self-delusion. I didn’t do any of that. Everything I have is gift. It’s easy for me to fault the Israelites or Goldilocks for their ingratitude since their stories so plainly involve taking possession of something that one hasn’t produced. But I should be faulting myself. The real moral of both stories and of my life is to realize that everything which has been given is gift and to ascribe thanksgiving to the giver.