The Tenth Commandment forbids us to covet: “You shall not covet”. To covet means to want something that belongs to someone else. We can see how wrong that is when we remember that it is covetousness which is the beginning of every theft. For example, a man may steal some vegetables from someone else’s allotment. But before he took them, he had looked at them with covetous eyes and wished that they were his. So just as a person who hates someone is a murderer at heart, so a person who covets is a thief at heart.
Envy and jealousy
There are two other sins which are often connected with the sin of covetousness. They are envy and jealousy. Envy means grudging someone his or her good fortune. For example, if a girl in your street had won a bicycle in a competition and you found yourself wishing that she hadn’t, that would be envy. But if you found yourself wishing that you had it instead of her, that would be jealousy. Envious people are sorry to hear of someone else’s good fortune, jealous people wish that good fortune were theirs. And remember, love of money always drives out love of God from a person’s soul. The two cannot exist together. As Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (NRSV, Luke 16:13).
The Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-21)
One day, when Jesus was speaking to a huge crowd of people, a man came elbowing his way through them until at last he got to the front. He had not come to hear Jesus’ teaching. What he wanted was to make use of Jesus in order to get hold of some money. He had an older brother and they had been left a sum of money, but his brother so far had refused to let him have his fair share. He had set his heart on getting this money by hook or by crook until quite suddenly he thought of a scheme by which he might do it without the expense of taking the matter to court. If he could get Jesus, the famous prophet of Nazareth, to tell his brother to hand it over, then his brother could scarcely refuse.
So, having got to the front of the crowd, he said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me” (NRSV, Luke 12:13). Jesus looked at him, and saw greed written all over his face. “Friend”, he replied, “who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?..Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (NRSV, Luke 12:14,15). And then Jesus told them the Parable of the Rich Fool. Now one of the worst things about love of money or avarice is that people who are bitten with it can think of nothing else but themselves and their wretched money. Notice in this Parable of the Rich Fool how the words “I” and “my” keep coming in.
“The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’. But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich towards God’ “ (NRSV, Luke 12:16-21).
So St Paul drives the lesson home: “…we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (NRSV, 1 Timothy 6:7,9,10).
The only way to avoid covetousness is to be generous by using one’s money to support the work of God’s Church, which is God’s work, and to do good to other people. And it is a curious thing that it is the generous people who are really happy themselves. Mean and grasping people, who only think of that they can grab for themselves, are not nearly as happy as generous and open-handed people are. And just as there is something very pleasant about generous people, so there is something very unpleasant about grasping people. You can see this clearly if you think of the kind of faces you would draw if you had to make a cartoon of a grasping person and a generous person.
Make sure you have a generous face by being a generous person.
1. To covet means to want something which belongs to someone else.
2. Love of money always drives out love for God.
3. We should avoid covetousness by always being generous.