X. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Being the mother of twin four-year-olds, something with which I have become all too familiar these days is a set of regulations entitled the “Ten Toddler Rules of Possession.” (I’m very grateful to whatever parent finally wrote these all down.) If I like it, it’s mine. If it’s in my hand, its mine. If I can take it from you, it’s mine. If I had it a little which ago, it’s mine. If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours. If I’m building something, all the pieces are mine. If it looks just like mine, it is mine. If I saw it first, it’s mine. If you are playing something and put it down, it becomes mine. If it’s broken, it’s yours. Pretty sure I’ve seen some grown-ups play by these rules over the years…
Ah, my friends, we have done it. We have come to the end of the set. Today we are looking at the tenth commandment. Woohoo. We did it. (There will be one more sermon in the series to look at what Jesus had to say about the commandments…) But just think of how far we have come!
Today we look at what is probably the most difficult of them all, because unlike the rest of this tablet, this one is entirely about our intentions. Yes, yes, Jesus decided to make the rest of these about our intentions, too. Thanks Jesus. But this one really is about what we’re thinking. Coveting. Ooooooo.
It is a simple enough definition: to want something that is not your own. Fair enough. More specifically, it means to want something that we have no right to. And usually, something that we have to be willing to use dishonest means to attain.
In Hebrew, the word for covet is actually directly related to the concept of dishonest gain. In Greek, there are multiple words for covet. Because of course there are (anyone remember how many words they have for love?). Generally, though, the concepts all bear in common an ugliness. Shamelessness. Detestableness. And in both Hebrew and Greek there is this sense that covetousness that is the exact opposite of generosity.
This week I found a story about a little boy who once won a contest to be pen pals with Robin Williams for an entire year. He was stoked. His siblings warned him that it was probably just a publicist who would be writing him back, but he didn’t care. He poured over every word he wrote to the actor in each letter.
That same summer, his family went to Disney. And this child waited and waited to see the Genie, who had been played by none other than Robin Williams. Well, as fate would have it, Robin happed to be in the park that day signing autographs. And when this youngling got to the front of the line, he was bouncing up and down and began to ramble on and on about the letters and winning the contest and Robin exclaimed, “Kyle!?!” Then, with a giant grin on his face, he reached into his inside coat pocket, he pulled out his letters, along with the other letters from the contest winners that he had been carrying with him while traveling to cheer himself up.
There are many things we can learn from this story. The generosity of such a big Hollywood star to take the time to write to ten kids and make their year. But also to perhaps realize that sometimes the dreamy lives of others are not always what they seem to be.
You see, there are countless things we can covet in this life. Not just people to whom we are attracted – and yes, we are always responsible for our own lust there, my friends. Not just houses and cars and clothes that appear to be at the top of the market. But we also covet more money. We covet more power. We covet glory. We covet control. And when we covet these things, and I mean really want them, desire them deep in our bones – we get ugly for them. We get shameless. Our behavior becomes downright detestable. We put all these things above our relationships. Above people. And that, that is never, ever what we are meant to do.
In the summer of 2021, the world watched as athletes from around the globe competed in the Olympic games in Tokyo. There were stories of triumph. But more than many games in history, there were so many stories of people coming together.
Perhaps my favorite story was that of the Men’s High Jump. On August first, the Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar and Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy both cleared 2.37 meters. But after three additional attempts, on both sides, neither could go any higher. The officials began to discuss the option of sudden death, when one of the men, Barshim, suggested that they should just share the gold medal. Though there have been other instances of shared medals, this was the first time the Olympians chose to do so. Tamberi jumped up and gave Barshim a hug in agreement. And the rest is history.
You see, not everything in this life has to be a competition. Not everything has to be stolen or coveted. At the end of the day, it may be difficult to completely control our initial thoughts. However, we can control our intentions, our meditations, our plans, our choices beyond. We can consciously decide upon a better path forward. We can put people first, including our families, but also our neighbors. All of our neighbors. Ensure that generosity and compassion are our main modes of being – because those are extensions of the love that God always desires us to have. We can intentionally take part in becoming who God is calling us to be: the love-filled people who follow Christ into the future.