I could blame moving house for the sparseness of my blogging of late.
It’s a decent excuse. It has the virtue of being true as well as convenient, but I expect that if I had had something particular to say I would have made more of an effort.
Now we’re all moved in, and we have internet again at the new house: the first house we’ve ever owned.
My pastor, ever the jokester, was making comments about this Brit owning a piece of America, so I played along by saying it was all a giant plot to retake the Colonies one tiny piece at a time.
All joking aside, owning the piece of property you live on is a big deal. It’s a long-term commitment, a statement of “here I am and I’m not going away”.
Tenancy gives you some stability through a contract for a length of time (usually a year), but it’s still, at root, a temporary thing leading to an impermanent mindset. “I’m here… for the term of my lease. After that, who knows?” It’s inherently less stable and rooted than ownership of the land.
“Ownership of the land” makes it sound like some huge multi-acre property with a castle and its own private herd of deer, but it’s really nothing like that. Just a small suburban house with a small garden. But it’s ours.
We’re not beholden to a landlord. If something goes wrong, we can get it fixed without having to put in a maintenance request and wait for the owner to deign to get around to it. If we don’t like the colour of the bathroom, we can change it. If we decide to plant Buddleia or grow tomatoes, we can go ahead and do it.
It’s a heady, somewhat exhilirating feeling after so long being a tenant.
I’m somewhat put in mind of Jesus’ teaching about the difference between the shepherd and the hired man. The hired man runs away when the wolf comes, because it’s just a job to him. He doesn’t have the same personal stake in it that the shepherd does. The shepherd is an Owner. He actually cares what happens to his stuff; no worthless wolf is going to steal one of his sheep. He’ll risk his life, even, to defend and protect what is rightfully his.
And that’s the thing. The shepherd isn’t another wolf. He didn’t rustle or steal those sheep; he’s not a predator. He didn’t acquire them by an act of conquest or commandeer them as tribute from some helpless peasant. The sheep are, in actual fact, his by right. Bought and paid for, properly inherited or born in his sheepfold, they are his.
Before, I’ve often wondered why the shepherd will lay down his life for the sheep. It doesn’t make sense; it’s just a scrawny sheep. He has others. Yeah, it’s a loss, and if you can stop the wolf you certainly should, but at the end of the day a person is worth more than a sheep.
This is the attitude of a hired man, a tenant.
I’m an owner now. It’s my house. I’m not saying I’d lay down my life for it, but as with many of His teachings, Jesus may be making a particular point.
In the ancient world, property was handed down to one’s children. It was something you inherited from your parents and held in trust for your kids. To this day, the remnant of the British aristocracy may have this sort of mindset: property belongs to your descendents at least as much as it belongs to you, and it’s your job to maintain and increase it.
In this context, laying down your life for the sheep makes sense. You’re not just dying to protect your personal stuff; that’s your family’s resources, your children’s future. Of course it’s worth risking your neck over.
This ties in to Biblical ideas about ownership. At the end of the day, God is the One who owns everything. The whole earth is the LORD’s, including the tiny piece that I now own title to. I’m holding this piece of the earth in trust, as His steward and regent. I own it, but in the end it’s His.