Coveting, Part Two: Relationships

The Tenth Commandment

You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What does this mean?

We are to fear and love God, so that we do not entice, force or steal away from our neighbors their spouses, household workers, or livestock, but instead urge them to stay and fulfill their responsibilities to our neighbors.

 

Last week, we read the command not to covet our neighbor’s house, and this week we’re back again with a prohibition against coveting everyone and everything that makes up a household. Before digging into this final commandment, it would help to say a few words about what coveting is and isn’t.

“Covet” isn’t a word we use much in our everyday lives. In fact, outside of church and Jane Austen films, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it said aloud. Coveting is a particular kind of selfishness and greed rolled into one. To covet something isn’t to wish you had one just like it. It’s to want what your neighbor has at their loss. Think for a minute about your favorite pair of shoes. I’m guessing that you bought those shoes from a store that had dozens, if not hundreds of pairs of shoes just like that one. Anybody else who wanted a pair like yours could wander into the nearest store and buy one.

In the ancient world, mass production was not an option. Wishing to have your neighbor’s shoes meant wishing they lost that particular pair so you could have it instead. That’s what makes coveting so dangerous- coveting puts our needs first, to the detriment of our neighbors. It makes sense that coveting, such a toxic combination of greed and selfishness, merits a lengthy commandment, so lengthy that we count it as two separate commandments.

As I said earlier, last week was “you shall not covet your neighbor’s house,” and now we hear a do-not-covet list that includes most all of what made an ancient household. Even if the advent of malls and online shopping makes coveting stuff less of an issue, coveting relationships remains a temptation. 

Songs from Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” to Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” tap into the feeling of coveting someone else’s partner. Even without romance, people get jealous and covet the attention and time of their friends. Ever thought that you deserved a promotion that went to your coworker instead? That resentment can easily turn to coveting. 

Instead of coveting the relationships between our neighbors and their spouses, family, friends, or coworkers, Martin Luther urges us to support and strengthen those relationships. Here’s a thought: if you find yourself coveting someone else’s relationship, any relationship: pray for them. Every time. Pray for the strength of their connection and commitment. Pray for whatever God sees that they need. Then pray for God to provide the people and relationships you need to be fulfilled without diminishing anyone else.

Oh God, you give us all that we need, including the people who make up our homes, schools, workplaces, congregation, and more. Protect us from coveting our neighbor’s relationships, so that we instead support them in all ways. Amen.