A lottery is an arrangement in which a winner or small group of winners are selected by random drawing. The winner(s) may receive goods, services, or property of value. Lotteries are often used to make the distribution of something with a high demand more fair for everyone. Examples include a lottery for units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a reputable public school. Two common, popular types of lotteries are those that occur in sports and those that dish out big cash prizes to paying participants.
In a lottery, each ticket represents an application for one of the available prizes. Applicants may also be required to provide proof of identity or address. Those who apply for the prize are given a number, which corresponds to its position on a large matrix such as the one shown below. The matrix displays applications in rows and columns, with the colors indicating the number of times that each application has received its assigned prize rank. In a genuinely unbiased lottery, the colors should be roughly equal.
It is a mistake to treat a lottery as a “get rich quick” scheme. The vast majority of people who play the lottery lose their money, and the winners tend to be those who spend more than they can afford to. The Bible condemns covetousness and warns that it is a sin (see Exodus 20:17). Instead, God wants us to work hard and earn our money honestly. “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4).
Lotteries are generally seen as a benign form of taxation, and indeed they do help raise funds for a variety of state uses. The problem is that they are a poor way to fund a social safety net or even pay for wars, because they tend to raise only a small percentage of the total amount needed. Moreover, the message that lottery organizers rely on is that you are doing a civic duty by buying a ticket and supporting your state, regardless of whether you win or not.
The story of the lottery in this passage is a sad one, because it illustrates human evil in its most fundamental form. The townspeople are blind to the fact that they are engaged in ritual murder, and they do it anyway. Jackson portrays their behavior as so ordinary and natural that it is easy for the reader to believe they are simply following tradition. The last name of the lottery winner, Delacroix, is an ironic choice: it signifies the cross. It is an allusion to Jesus’ crucifixion, which occurred because He defied conventional wisdom and preached about the kingdom of heaven. Just like the villagers in this story, the kings of the world will continue to be swayed by conventional thinking and will engage in wickedness without even realizing it. This is a lesson that all should remember.