Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Bible Background We end the series on the Ten Commandments by spending a whole week on the last of the commandments, the one against coveting. It is the only commandment that is repeated twice. Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s spouse. It even ends with a wrap up of do not covet anything of your neighbor’s. I imagine God really emphasizing this final point. Just don’t do it. Do. Not. Covet. Anything. Period.
So what is coveting if it is so important that we not do it? To covet, according to the dictionary per Google, means, “to yearn to posses or have.” If we want something, yearning to posses or have, we are coveting. This makes the commandment even more straightforward. If your neighbor has something and you want it. You yearn to posses it instead of your neighbor having it. You are coveting that object.
Dang. I thought it would be more elusive. I thought I could call this one good because I thought to covet would be more dark in some ways. But instead it is just wanting what the other person has. Our culture seems to be built on this. I won’t lie; I really want that outfit that so and so has. Or I would love to live in their house. Wow, I really want that piece in their garden. Or that new piece of technology. I think you get the idea. We are called not to yearn to have what belongs to our neighbor. And the reality is that we all do this. Our heart desires things.
There are many biblical examples of this. There is the extreme version of coveting when King David wants to have Bathsheba and gets rid of her husband to make it happen. Then there is the example of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel who want the vineyard that someone else owns. This is a struggle for humans regardless of what we think we can control. In each of these examples, coveting leads to horrible situations. There is a warning here from our storytellers. When we want what our neighbor has and we do anything to get it, we are led astray. We can develop all sorts of spiritual practices to help us curb this but it is part of being human. This is how consumerism works!
We are love God. Then we are to love our neighbor. This commandment is very much a part of loving neighbor. We are not to desire what our neighbor has. A warning: our heart’s desires can be powerful. Be aware. Set yourself up with support and accountability. Church is a good place for this. Check in with your heart every once in a while about how it is going against coveting. Take care of that heart. We are all in the same boat. We can call each other into life of community rather than a life of jealousy and yearning for what the other has. May we be content with what we have and work towards providing necessities to others who don’t have it.
“I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted just like that, and it didn’t mean anything? What then?”
“Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.” ― Steve Martin
Exodus 20: 17 (NRSV)
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Questions for the Week
What do you covet the most?
What do you do to combat wanting with the other has?
Why do you think this is the final commandment?