You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Before we talk about this commandment, and why we really should follow it, we need to have an uncomfortable conversation about its content. Friends, this commandment is referring to property. That's disturbing, because we talk about someone's wife and someone's slaves, and people are not property to be owned or coveted. But this was a different time and it's a different context, so as awful as this is, we have to gloss over it or we'll miss the point of God's commandment to us.
Note: We are only glossing for the meaning of this particular content of this particular commandment; the treatment of women and the slave trade are still issues all over the world (even here) and we are called to fight for those who are abused and persecuted.
*Steps off soapbox*
But this is a commandment about property. It's strange when you think that among these very important commandments to God's people, we wrap it up with an admonition about not being jealous of what other people have. I think most of us are aware that blatant materialism is a problem, and we try to be grateful for the gifts that God has given us, but these are some weird examples. Mostly, because they are basic things.
I know, the people as chattel thing is throwing you off. But think about it. The Bible is telling us to be mindful of how we think about our neighbor's mounds of gold or flocks of sheep. The text doesn't mention precious stones, or dozens of sons (children are property too here, remember?) or anything that might make you think someone is very lucky, rich, or blessed. The verse tells you not to covet their home, their wife, their slave, and their donkey. These are things most folks have. These are "treasures" but not extravagant ones. So today it might be: don't covet your neighbor's cell phone, their car, or their apartment.
Jealously is a dangerous thing, and it gets particularly nasty when the playing fields are only slightly unequal. I don't resent Bill Gates for making a billion dollars more than me, but I will resent the heck out of an old schoolmate with a nicer home than mine.
When co-workers with similar educations and skill sets find out someone on staff is making $5,000 more than the other, jealousy is not going to let them stay friends. When two people have the same position but one has a better office, it can turn into an issue and affect how they relate to each other. When one friend's birthday gift is just a tad nicer than the one your mutual friend gave to you, you may start to doubt your relationship with both of them. When one person is graced with beautiful shiny hair when yours is starting to thin even though you're the same age, race, and health, OR when your partner's ex is in slightly better shape than you are, when your buddy can afford a new car but you'll still need to wait a couple of years.... you know what I mean. You make catty comments, you act like you don't care, or you belittle what they have in an attempt to make yourself feel better.
It's not necessarily about being grateful, as much as it is keeping jealousy and the green-eyed monster out of your relationships. You can't be in community with people you resent. (Well maybe you CAN but it's really hard.) Be kind to your neighbors, nurture your relationship, check your reaction, and never, ever, covet your neighbor's donkey... the Bible says so.
Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, You care that we love and respect one another. Help us to keep our destructive emotions in check and respond to our neighbor in joy, even if they have "better" than we do, so we can live in the beautiful kingdom you've imagined for us. Amen.
Rev. Kelly Staples, Associate Pastor, NorthPark Presbyterian Church