Beckett: “You Shall Not Covet”

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”

What does this mean? “We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it,” and neither “entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.”

The 9th and 10th Commandments prohibit covetousness. Some of us have insatiable souls. There’s always the bigger house to get, a more expensive car, the latest tech, the latest fashion, another chance to climb the corporate ladder to make more money (especially at the expense of your baby), and so on. “The sky is the limit,” we say, yet we keep reaching higher and higher as we want more and more things, not quite finding satisfaction no matter how high we manage to reach.

It is often taught that covetousness is only an inward disposition, but this is an inadequate definition. It is true that the heart is where covetousness resides, but covetousness also seeks outward action. This is why Luther warns Christians against scheming “to get our neighbor’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right” and not to “entice or force away our neighbor’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him.” Covetousness is not content with desire; if not choked away, it will seek ways to acquire what it desires, usually through clever schemes.

The Thanksgiving holiday is always ironic in this way. It’s the brief (too brief) time of year we reminisce about the things we’re thankful for, then 24 hours later on Black Friday we’re not quite as thankful as we thought ourselves to be as we rush to our local stores for Black Friday sales. Not quite full on turkey stuffing, we rush to gorge on more stuff. Of course, it is different if you’re using it as an opportunity to buy gifts for people you love at a reduced price; but how many of us, I wonder, also use it as an opportunity to satiate our covetous worm?

Jesus had no covetousness within Him. He didn’t even desire a simple home (Luke 9:58). He relied constantly on His heavenly Father (John 8:26). He tells us, too, not to worry about the things we need, for our heavenly Father knows we need them (Matthew 6:25-34). You might not have as much as others, but it doesn’t matter. If you live within the means given to you, you have everything you need. Affluence is not the sign of God’s favour for you. Rather, Christ crucified and risen is the sign of His favour for you.


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