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by Ted Schroder
April 2, 2006

The tenth commandment: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Exodus 20:17) The word 'covet' is derived from Cupid, the god of love, the personification of inordinate desire for gain. It is the mental stimulus that schemes to get what one desires. It is the last temptation the devil presented to Jesus in the wilderness when he showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you, if you bow down and worship me." Jesus replied, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'" (Matthew 4:8-10) The last commandment brings us full circle to the first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me."

Desire is natural to human life. Not to desire is to be apathetic, and to have no goals. To love is to desire. To covet, however, is to want to have something which is not ours to have - to take away from someone what is their's. It is sinful desire, greedy desire, selfish desire, avarice, cupidity. Wars are started by national leaders coveting the territory and resources of other nations. Takeovers occur because companies covet their competitor's business. Sometimes that is healthy, and sometimes it creates a monopoly.

Advertising is designed to provide information about a product so that it stimulates our desire to possess it. Availability of credit encourages the satisfaction of our desires. Jesus said, "Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." He told the parable of the Rich Fool to illustrate the folly of taking rather than giving. (Luke 12:13-21) You can't take it with you.

Money can buy medicine, but it cannot buy health.

Money can buy a house, but not a home.

Money can buy companionship, but not friendship.

Money can buy entertainment, but not happiness.

Money can buy food, but not an appetite.

Money can buy a bed, but not sleep.

Money can buy a crucifix, but not a savior.

Covetousness reveals how deeply we need to feel good about ourselves, and how we think that acquisition (of a spouse, a family, a house, a vehicle, a hobby, clothing, property, or other investments) can make us feel significant, to feel above average, to allay our fears about insecurity, about the future. This deep need, this addiction, is a substitute for trust in God's love. Covetousness is a form of idolatry. (Colossians 3:5) It can only be overcome by finding a deeper satisfaction, a more lasting object of desire.

The rich young ruler is a case in point. He had everything that this world could offer him. He was rich, he was young, he was attractive. He wanted to know how he could possess eternal life. Jesus listed the commandments as a way of testing his desire. He claimed to have kept them from his childhood. Jesus loved this man and saw through to his heart, and what he lacked. He saw life as the acquisition of assets: of spiritual as well as material resources. The inheritance of eternal life was going to be the capstone of his endeavors to live the good life, which Jesus had reminded him, was impossible for any human being to attain. (Mark 10:17-21)

By listing the commandments Jesus hoped that the young man would see his need for grace, for humility, for forgiveness. Instead, blinded by his own enthusiasm, and zeal for success, he blurted out an expression of his complacency. "Teacher, all these have I kept since I was a boy."

He was a taker and not a giver. He had spent his life investing in his own security, his own need to feel good about himself, that he had succumbed to an idealism that can only be called hubris: the insolence of the immature. This may be forgiveable in the young, even attractive, but if it is not corrected it can result in destructive self-centeredness. You see this hubris in some successful athletes, who, when asked by the interviewer what gave them the edge in the competition reply, "I believed in myself. I knew I could do it if only I believed in myself!"

The only remedy for such cocksureness was a bucket of cold water: "One thing you lack," Jesus said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Jesus did not say this to all those who were wealthy. But he did say it to this young man. He was testing his loyalty and direction in life. He had to make a decision about the way he lived: was he going to follow Jesus or was he going to continue to be preoccupied with his great wealth? Was he going to be a giver or a taker?

Following Jesus means letting his love so fill our hearts that it overflows into the lives of others. The only way we can fulfill the commandments is to let the desires of Jesus, the revelation of the love of God, govern the desires of our hearts. This is what St. Paul meant when he wrote: "Don't run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe to one another. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code - don't sleep with another person's spouse, don't take someone's life, don't take what isn't yours, don't always be wanting what you don't have, and any other 'don't' you can think of - finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can't go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love." (Romans 13:8-10 The Message) "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Galatians 5:14)

The Good News is that Jesus can reverse the inclination of the sinful heart. Instead of being covetous of others, of seeking what we can get from others to benefit us, he gives us the opportunity to fulfilling our debt of love, that we owe one another. The nature of the Gospel is giving not taking. "God so loved the world that he gave..."

The difference between a giver and a taker is a matter of the heart. It is the difference between love and lust, between the selfish and the unselfish. It requires facing up to the hold the temptations of this world have over us, and surrendering to the leadership of the Savior to deliver us from its power. This is not easy. It is a lifelong battle. That is why we need the standard of the commandments to reveal to us where we fall short.

That is why we need to hear the words of Jesus as they diagnose our condition, and prescribe our treatment. That is why we turn our lives over to the God who is love, so that he may liberate us and enable us to know how to love our neighbor as ourselves - coveting for others what we might want for ourselves - wanting to share with others what we enjoy - giving not taking. This we do when we open our lives to the bread of heaven and drink the cup of salvation. We can be transformed by his grace.

An audio version of this presentation may be found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel. Amelia Island, Florida.

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