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The Tenth Commandment

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The Tenth Commandment, reads almost exactly the same as the ninth. “You shall not covet…anything that is your neighbor’s…You shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbors. (CCC # 2534)” We have traditionally taken the Ninth Commandment to mean not coveting your neighbor’s wife and the tenth as not coveting your neighbor’s goods, but it is quite obvious that God felt he needed to be very clear and specific and say it twice. In fact the Jewish Ten Commandments incorporate our ninth and tenth into one. I do not know the history of how the differences occurred except to say, isn’t that just like religions, they can’t even agree on the same Ten Commandments.

If the Ninth Commandment speaks to the deadly sin of lust, this commandment speaks to the deadly sin of greed-with a side of envy. They are not so far apart in their sinfulness. Wanting is wanting, whether it be person, place, or thing. Both these two commandments come around to remind us of the first three. “Where our heart is so will be our treasure (Matt. 6:21).” Anything we want besides God becomes idol worship. God is not admonishing us by this commandment as much as warning us. We will not be satisfied with “stuff.” Wealth never sees enough wealth, there will always be someone who has something more. For me, it was always my distain that I was never the smartest. In grade school, high school, college, medical school, and even in seminary, I wanted to be number one…I was always about number sixteen.

Someone was kind enough to give me a one year subscription to the Wall Street Journal. I like to read newspapers, and I have been so disappointed with the content and the cost of the Milwaukee Journal that I took to reading my sister’s Wall Street Journal. One of the more interesting features, which I think is on Friday, is subtitled ‘Mansions.’ It lists some very high end homes for sale, in the 35 million dollar range. It must feed many people's desire for want, under the cover of, “I was just curious.” I get reminded of my sin every Friday.

I like Fr. Richard Rohr. He wrote this about the Tenth Commandment. See if you agree, “We can’t possibly preach on, 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods' because Western society is based on this. It is called capitalism. Mass advertising tells us we need things none of us need. It sows confusion about what’s important for life. The level of need has moved to such a level of illusion and sophistication that what were once ultimate luxuries have become necessities…The affluent West has made happiness impossible. We’ve created a pseudo-happiness, a pseudo-success, a pseudo-security that will never satisfy the human heart.”

I quoted him extensively because I want you to spend some time on his words. I know my definition of success was money, a career, “running with the big dogs.” But as I may have said before, God gave me a king’s ambition with a jack’s ability, so I was always just off the mark. This led to a dissatisfaction with my work, and then the death of my wife, and the walls of what mattered came crashing down all at once. It took a spiritual car accident to get me to wake up to God’s voice. Our struggle is not with others, our struggle is within ourselves. The need to matter, outside of mattering to God, seems to drive these desires. We try to prove we matter by accumulating stuff. We are all guilty of this desire. Even now as I write this, I still have about fifteen pair of Allen Edmond shoes from my past life still neatly tucked away. If you saw my black and whites for Christmas, you were privileged to see a pair from my collection.

So here is my debatable point. Lust, greed, and envy, are products of our brokenness, our Original Sin. We can never, even with the grace of God, be freed from these temptations, because they are a part of our broken humanity. They are the reality we carry in our hearts that we are not masters of the world. If we were to be freed from them, we would believe we were gods. So what we need to do is harness the energy of these drives and direct them to good and moral ends. We must use our “lust energy” to build up other people rather than satisfying ourselves. We must use or envy to support those who have fallen instead of stepping on them to get higher. We must use the energy of greed to give from our need. This is how I view this commandment, not as something we should constantly judge ourselves in what we do and not do covet. Rather, I see this commandment as a reminder, as means of using what we would do for selfish motivations, are channeled into self-less caring. Now that takes the grace of God and you know what …he knows it, because he is the one who made this commandment in the first place.

I have had a personal experience which convinced me, and I can tell you as fact, that nothing we have here matters. What does matter is the love and goodness you have built up by practicing the challenging of our brokenness with the grace of God into service, and then God alone will be our only desire. St. Theresa of Avila said that is the Way to Perfection.