An Old-Fashioned Sin


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, 1 Kings 21:1-16, 1 Corinthians 1:1-19, Matthew 4:1-11

Covet isn’t a word we use a lot unless we are quoting the Ten Commandments. It can be a difficult concept for us to wrap our brains around. We often treat it as a synonym of envy or desire, but it’s more intense than that. Those are feelings, and God’s commandments don’t waste time telling us what to feel. We can’t covet something unless it belongs to someone else. When we covet our neighbor’s livestock or spouse, we don’t just wish we had one of those too, we dwell on the idea that the one they have should be ours. It’s more than wanting it – it’s convincing ourselves we somehow have more right to it than they do.

King Ahab coveted the land of a man named Naboth. The land, which Naboth used as a vineyard, was his ancestral inheritance. Ahab wanted to turn it into a garden so he offered to buy or replace it, but Naboth declined his offer. Ahab – who as king was wealthy beyond measure and could have built more gardens than he could have visited in a lifetime – became so depressed he wouldn’t eat or leave his bed. Ahab’s wife Jezebel was having none of it. She arranged for false charges of blasphemy to be brought against Naboth and the people stoned him. Ahab didn’t waste any time taking possession of the land.

Coveting may be an old-fashioned word, but it has many modern practitioners. Nations justify war by convincing themselves they deserve what someone else already has. Gentrification drives poor people from their homes into even poorer neighborhoods. In some cases when a person can’t get what they covet – a relationship, a reputation, or even peace of mind – they settle for destroying it.

Coveting isn’t a passing glance or stray thought. It’s a cultivated intention. It’s replacing the only true object of our devotion with something that will not only fail to satisfy, but ultimately diminish us.

Perhaps if we are tempted to covet, we can remember Jesus being tempted by the devil in the desert. Jesus drove him away saying, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” We can’t control our thoughts, but we can choose which ones to follow.

Comfort: Coveting is something  you can avoid.

Challenge: Once a day say a prayer of gratitude for something you have.

Prayer: Merciful God, teach me to be content with what you have seen fit to entrust to me. Amen. 

Discussion: What do you think of when you hear the word covet?

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