The Ninth and Tenth Commandments: You Shall Not Covet Your Neighbor’s Wife or Goods – Commentary by Sr. Lucia of Fatima

by admin on September 6, 2011

«You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife nor shall you desire his house(…),or anything that is your neighbor’s.* (Deut 5,18).

There is so much disregard of this commandment in the world today that I ask myself if it is even worthwhile talking about it? The answer is in the affirmative; because, even if the whole world is drowning in the abyss, the word of God remains, repeating: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife”.

The sin against this commandment is so serious that, in the Old Tes­tament, it was punished by death. «If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.» (Lv 20, 10). And, in another place: «If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman* (Deut 22, 22).

In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus Christ was talking to the multitude which had gathered around Him, He said: « You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already commited adultery with her in his heart.* (Mt 5, 27-28).  We see from this that God forbids not only the act in itself but also the covetousness and the desire involved, since these lead afterwards to the consummation of the act. And the divine Master con­cludes his affirmation with this very harsh advice «If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.* (Mt 5, 29). In this extreme example, Jesus wants to emphasise the gravity of this sin and how it incurs the punishment of eternal damnation.

The sin against this commandment involves the violation of two oth­ers, namely, the one which orders the observance of chastity, and the one which forbids theft. In fact, to take possession of someone who belongs to, or has been entrusted to, another is stealing.  Such an act is thus contrary to both justice and charity.  Hence, God includes in this commandment a list of things which we may not covet: ^Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife; and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house (…) or anything that is your neighbor’s* (Dt 5, 21).

The law of civil divorce, which various nations permit, is opposed to the law of God which lays down that the marriage bond is indissoluble: « What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.* (Mt 19, 6).  St. Paul, wishing to discuss the limits proper to this law, proposed the concrete case of the union of man and woman, which only the death of one of them can sever. « Thus a married woman is bound by law to her hus­band as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress* (Rm 7, 2-3).

The same Apostle does not conceal from us the terrible fate awaiting those who transgress this law. «Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedi­ence. Therefore do not associate with them » (Eph 5, 5-7). And this is what he wrote to the Corinthians: «I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and the robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunk­ard, or robber — not even to eat with such a one.* (1 Cor 5, 9-11).

St. Paul also reminds us that God has called us all to sanctity «For this is the will of God, your sanctiftcation: that you abstain from immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man trans­gress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you. For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.* (1 Thess 4, 3-8).

Concerning St. Paul’s remark, ” The Lord always avenges all these things”; here is a page from the prophet Jeremiah, where God resolves to extermi­nate his unfaithful people. «How can I pardon you? Your children have for­saken me, and have sworn by those who are no gods. When I fed them to the full, they committed adultery and trooped to the houses of harlots. They were well-fed lusty stallions, each neighing for his neighbor’s wife.  Shall I not pun­ish them for these things? says the Lord; and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this? Go up through her vine-rows and destroy, but make not a full end; strip away her branches, for they are not the Lord’s.* (Jer 5, 7-10).

The story of King David tells that he sinned against this command­ment; and as one sin usually leads to many others, he also violated the commandment which forbids us to appropriate to ourselves the right of our neighbours, the precept which commands everyone to observe chas­tity according to his state of life; the commandment which forbids us to make an attempt on our neighbour’s life, etc. God dealt mercifully with him, sending him the prophet Nathan to make him acknowledge his sins, and let him know the chastisements with which God had intended to punish him. After hearing the prophet’s words, David repented and did penance. Therefore, God ordered the prophet to say to him: « The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die* (2 Sam 12, 13-14).

In the New Testament, St. John the Baptist, too, had to rebuke King Herod for having taken his brother Philip’s wife, in these words: «It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.* (Mk 6, 18). But in John’s case, zeal for God’s law brought him the palm of martyrdom: he was imprisoned and, at the request of the adulterous woman, beheaded.

How happy I should be if God were to give me, too, the grace of giving my life in defence of his Law and if, by so giving it, men, in imita­tion of David, acknowledged their sins, asked God’s pardon, amended their lives and did penance, so that thus they might be saved and gain eternal life!

We are deluded if we think, or say, that these divine laws were given solely for the Israelites because they were the people chosen by God to be saved. In fact, Jesus Christ, in the Gospel, told us that He did not come to abolish the Law but to complete and perfect it. And He commanded his apostles to go and teach it to the whole world, so that all people might be saved: «Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.* (Mk 16, 15-16).

This command that Jesus Christ gave to his Apostles proves that all of us belong to the People of God. We were chosen, or rather, created in order to be saved, on condition that we believe, are baptised, and fulfil the Law of God. Yes, we must fulfil the Law of God, as Jesus tells us: «Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished  (Mt 5, 17-18).  And it will endure until the last day when the same Word of God will pronounce the sentence of condemnation on the trans­gressor: «If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (…) the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.» (Jn 12, 47-48).

Thus we see that we will be saved by observing the Law of God, whereas by violating it we will be condemned. It is certain that God is a kind Fa­ther, always ready to receive the repentant sinner but only when He sees sorrow for the sin and a firm purpose of amendment in the sinner’s heart. It was for the benefit of souls like this that the Lord said: « Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the right­eous, but sinners.» (Mt 9, 12-13). Yes, because the just follow the Lord’s ways; it is the sinners who have gone astray that must be called back and led into the ways of truth, of purity, of justice and of God’s love.

Ave Maria!

Click Here to see the List of The Ten Commandments with 122 Questions to Examine Your Conscience with.

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