You shall not covet

June 10, 2018

There’s a lot of things I want. There are a lot of things I want to be good at. I wish I could play the guitar better; I wish I could run faster; and as a pastor and leader, I am really envious of those who seem to always have the right words. That’s just a few of my wants, my desires. But, I shouldn’t get too down on my self, on one of our many family amusement parks trips like the one we just got back from, I discovered that I excel at one thing in particular. I am an excellent line jumper. You know what that is right? It’s when you are so bored and tired of standing in lines, that you jump.

Now just in case you don’t know how to do it, let me show you. I need a few volunteers — demonstrate jumping in line (which is standing in line and just jumping up and down).

Oh, you thought I meant the other type of line jumping, cutting in line. That wouldn’t make me a good pastor or Christian for that matter. No I would never jump in front of others; I’d never cut in line. Because lines serve a purpose, keeping things running smoothly; our place secured and established by time and not by size, force, or might. The line is kind of like an equalizer, leveling and organizing the playing field, keeping things orderly and safe.

That’s how the 10 commandments are often understood—as God’s gift to us, to keep us safe, lines not to be cut, lines not to be crossed, laws not be broken. Do not murder, check; do not steal, check; do not commit adultery, check.

Do not jump ahead in line, check. Unless .

Unless I have a fastpass. You see, Disney created this system called the fastpass. They established a way for certain people to make something like reservations. For certain rides you can pick a time to ride. You have one hour to use your fastpass to bypass the line, jump ahead of almost everyone else. Really when you think about it, the fastpass system is Disney’s sanctioned line jumping let’s me ride as many rides as possible, to not have to wait in line, to have as much fun as possible that’s what I really want.

Wishing and wanting, craving and coveting the last of the ten commandments. At first when I looked at the way these weeks were designed by this narrative lectionary, I didn’t understand why this single verse against coveting (which our version of the 10 commandments divides into the 9th and 10) why this warranted one whole Sunday.

But as I’ve looked into it, the question became not so much why this verse was given it’s own Sunday, but why it is there to begin with. After all, I don’t know of any other law codes that go beyond actions—to our hearts, minds, desires. I am not alone in wondering this. Ancient rabbi’s asked how the command against coveting fit with the rest. Some suggested that by prohibiting coveting was a way to, in a sense, build a fence, a line around the other commandments. If we don’t covet, we won’t steal. If we don’t covet we won’t murder. If we don’t covet, we won’t work ourselves to the bone. If we don’t covet, we won’t make won’t worship things or desire people. All it takes is controlling our cravings and disciplining our drives and desires. That’s if we can control our cravings and discipline our desires.

Is it possible to not want? Can we not covet? Martin Luther, way back in the 1500’s For him, this verse is included in the commandments because we can not keep it. And since we can not even keep the 10 commandments, we need forgiveness. For Luther this commandment goads us into God’s grace, because controlling our cravings and our coveting is beyond the power each person’s human heart.

But perhaps there’s another way—another way to read these words, another way to keep this commandment.

A way that remembers where the commandments come from. The story of the torah, of the law of the lines God draws for us, were first drawn for men and women fleeing oppression, refugees seeking safety, for slaves seeking freedom. First of all, we can and should never forget the context of these words. God gives them and us the promise of a land. But it’s not just pharaoh they are fleeing. Because just think about this for a moment, pharaoh didn’t pick up a whip, pharaoh didn’t beat the people into submission. But slaves lived and died to build building, to bake breads. But this is not God’s way. Perhaps God knows our hearts as well, and this commandment is included to try to keep us wanting things—homes and happiness, peace and prosperity—privilege paid for by the lives and deaths of others. You know, economic, political, education, institutions and systems can be set up to keep our hands from getting dirty, but still get us what we want. The promised Land of the torah (what we read in Exodus and Deuteronomy) is where debts are forgiven, where the poor, the widow, the orphan are not to be used and abused but to be taken care of, God is setting up a system that seeks the welfare of all, not just for the benefit of the few, the wealthy. That’s why the slave is not supposed to work on the sabbath, that’s why debts are forgiven, that’s why farmers are to intentionally leave crops in the field. It is no crime to want your fair share, especially your fair share for all, and that is what God draws with the commandments, lines for the land of promise, lines for the life together, lines for community of care, lines for us. Amen.

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