And he said to them, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the great and first commandment. A second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:37-40
Point by Point
- In the 10 law words, God addressed but one interior action, covetousness
- The desire to have what belongs to others comes from a belief that we do not have what we need, that we are not really loved and cared for
- God shouted at Israel, “Stop that! I have already taken you out of bondage in Egypt; now act like it!”
- “Love God with everything you’ve got and your neighbor as yourself ” turns ” “don’t covet” around and pushes it out into “do be generous”
- If we are bathed in grace and know ourselves to be loved, like the earliest Christians, we can also give our stuff away to those who really need it
- And if we do not feel so free, what then?
- Freedom starts with groaning in the Spirit…
- We all have new adventures before us in breaking free of our culture’s greedy, hollow way of life
This is the first post on one of the Ten Commandments. Starting at the back end and working forward:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” Exodus 20:17.
This is the only law among the 10 Big Ones which considers an interior action, a thought, a motive, of those to whom the law is addressed. True to the life of a person who had been crushed by hard servitude, he who covets looks around at everything and everyone else and assumes that everyone has it better than he does!
“How come she has a bigger piece than I do?”
“My cart is smaller than their cart! How do they end up with all the good stuff?”
“Why does he get one of those? I don’t have one?”
“I want his cow; mine’s no good!”
“Stop doing that!” shouts God in this law. “Stop acting like your world is still cruel, like you are still in Egypt and you are being mistreated. I am the one who loves you and I am giving you everything!”
Israel, bruised and broken by hard labor, was, heart, soul and strength, far from what Yahweh intended for them, so last among the core “just do it; just don’t do it” laws was a law that told them to learn truth on the inside: they had and would have, everything they needed. They did not need what their neighbor had.”
So, how do we read the Big Ten Words today? How does this law look when filtered through the two great laws of love? As I wrote in the last post, we can stop shouting. Many people will pay attention, at least at some level, when they hear what God has to say, so we need not terrify anyone. Then, we need to read the commandments as ways in which we who have been loved are called to love.
Loving God with everything we’ve got and our neighbors as much as ourselves is only possible if we know we have been given everything we need. We have to know we have been loved. If we have become the children of God then we have been pulled up into the lap of our Abba and given all the hugs we have needed to ease the pain and suffering of our hearts and souls.
Like Eustace Scrubb in C.S. Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawntredder, when Eustace became a greedy dragon, God has dug down deep and we have been healed in the heart, at the very core of our being. And from that core, the warm and warming grace of God is beginning to make its way out into the rest of our broken but healing lives, into our shriveled souls — out into our selfish attitudes and biased outlook — and then out into our strength, our walking/talking/doing around in life.
So, being loved and cared for and knowing it, can we begin to look at all we have got and figure out which of the things we have should be given away to others who really do need them? Generosity flows from grace. When the Spirit broke out on the young Jewish church in Jerusalem, the response of members of that saved assembly was to share what they did not need with those who needed it, because they were loved and knew they were cared for completely (Acts 2-4).
And as the biblical story continues, about three decades later, St. Paul, writing a letter from jail, used a new song of the infant church to drive this same point home to those in Philippi:
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:4-11
Here is St. Paul’s description of Jesus as the very opposite of the usual Roman emperor and/or emperor wanna-be who always coveted and grasped every honor, every bit of status, every power, every gift he could grab on his way to becoming divine! As we begin to realize who we are, actual children and heirs to the king of creation, we realize, just like Jesus, clinging to our stuff, our perks, etc., is not holy living. The kingdom does not come through acquisition!
If we too would supercharge “thou shalt not covet,” then the direction of our lives can be “down and out into the world.” After all, our true healing and joy is in that direction. We already know the stuff the world tries to sell us cannot possibly make us complete like the advertisers claim. Our culture’s call is, “Stay safe and get as much as you can!” Our calling is, “Spend your life for you do not know about tomorrow.” We can take up our calling to be open-handed because we are already loved and we know we will be completed through risky love, generosity and joy!
Moreover, as those who are, through love, becoming comfortable in our own skins, we can also truly enjoy who we are and what we have. And we can therefore give without fear of loss and also receive to enjoy for the sake of Joy, himself. Ain’t it great to be free?
But what if all the above makes you feel more uncomfortable than free? Well, you, like me sometimes, may have stumbled onto one of those places in your soul where God’s grace has gotten stuck on its way out from your new heart into your changing life. If so, my advice is, don’t beat yourself up. Rather, groan along with God’s amazing Spirit! That Power has been sent to us to lead us into a full and true community of love, inside and out (Romans 7:24-8:25). It’s amazing how quickly God works to heal us once we start to groan, to let the Spirit know we are willing to be changed from the inside out. Whatever you do, don’t try to “resolve” and “improve.” As Sara Groves has sung, we waste a great deal of time trying to patch a carefully constructed false veneer. True life happens when, in her words, We “show up for our own life.”
True transformation all starts with as honest a prayer as we can manage. God is the one who makes the real changes, from the heart, outward. And then, after a while, we begin to notice that we are not keeping up so much with the Joneses; in fact, we notice we really do not so much care what ‘ol Jonesy has gotten new this month (and where is he going to keep it? His garage is already full!). As we heal, we begin to be free of all the stuff that thas been owning us and we begin to just be glad.
Lord, our world is always trying to sell us something. Some of us have even gone into debt to get all the latest stuff. Our world teaches us to be afraid for our future. Show, us, King Jesus, that you are in charge, that you love us, that our future is utterly secure in your authority, strength, power and love. Teach us how to be free to join you in changing the world also through generous love. Amen.