Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thou shalt not covet !

Again I have to give a tip of the hat to my friend Bruce Bergwall. He's helped motivate me to try to stay true to a year long biblical reading project---so far it's all systems go and we are on schedule through 5 and a half months. This particular reading program has us skipping around in a 7 day cycle. For example one day we read the prophets, another history, another the Gospel etc. What sparked this post was the fact that recently the assigned reading included the 10 Commandments story from the Book of Exodus. Exodus 20 to be exact. The Commandment that really made me pause was the very last one:( Exodus 20:17)

17Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's

Biblical language is interesting in that even though we know the gist of what is being spoken, many times the words used in the translation don't jive with common usage. We rarely ever use the term covet. I decided to look it up. Here's Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry:
Middle English coveiten, from Anglo-French coveiter, from Vulgar Latin *cupidietare, from Latin cupiditat-, cupiditas desire, from cupidus desirous, from cupere to desire
14th century

transitive verb 1 : to wish for earnestly 2 : to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably intransitive verb : to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to another

So the 10th Commandment is telling us to essentially not desire any material good that belongs to our neighbors. That sure puts a lid on the "keeping up with the Jones's" philosophy that has been such a central tenant in American life the past 50 years or so.

I find it a little funny that given all the difficult issues we face as a society we still read from time to time about efforts to post the 10 Commandments in various government buildings, schools etc. The reason i find it funny is that the way I read Exodus 20:17, our entire consumer society is based on coveting whatever is thy neighbor's. That's what keeps us going as American consumers,

Why are we so intent on trying to shove the Commandments down peoples throats? What's the point? Unless we are all ready to acknowledge how far short of the mark we all fall it seems to me to be an exercise in hypocrisy.

I'll use Matthew Chapter 7 to illustrate my point:

1Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Instead of worrying about whether we can post the Commandments in front of society's collective face, maybe we should worry about the "beam in our own eyes" and work on fixing that. If we do that we will taken a small step towards a better society.

1 comment:

Bruce Bergwall said...

To me the opposite of coveting is contentment. And one of the by-products (fruit's of the Spirit) of asking Jesus to become your Lord and Savior is the spirit of joy, peace and "contentment" with what you have. One of my favorite verses. Psalm 37:4. "Delight yourself in the LORD;
And He will give you the desires of your heart."