You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
This week’s reading reminds me of the one about two brothers who were arguing over which of the two donkeys was theirs. The first brother said, ”Tell you what, I’ll cut an ear off of my donkey and the donkey with only one ear will be mine. You take the other one.” So they came to an agreement. Later that night, the donkey with only one ear looked at the other donkey with two ears in jealousy, and he ended up biting the donkey’s ear off. The next morning, the brothers started arguing again. One of the brothers said, “Alright, I’ll cut off one of the donkey’s second ear and the donkey with no ears is mine and you take the other one.” So they came to an agreement. Later that night, the donkey with no ears got jealous again and bit the other donkey’s remaining ear off. Morning came and the brothers saw the earless donkeys and were again mad and arguing. One of the brothers said,”This is what we’ll do. I’ll cut off my donkey’s tail and the other one with a tail will be yours.” So they came to an agreement. That night, the same thing happened: the donkey with no tail got jealous and bit the other donkey’s tail off. The morning came, both brothers were mad. One brother finally yelled, ”Alright, fine, how about you take the black donkey and I take the brown one?!”
Who knew covetousness extended to donkeys as well? What one has (or doesn’t have!), the other one wants! What an absurd turn of events, all easily avoided if only the brothers used a little common sense. Of course, covetousness isn’t unique to humans alone. Many of God’s creatures long for what their fellow species may or may not have. It’s what undergirds a lot of their competitiveness, a deep dissatisfaction with what’s been given to them. Sure, the fight for survival is a real fight in this world but once survival is assured, many creatures simply fight for bigger and better. We are by no means alone in our deep dissatisfaction. What we are alone in having is complex reasoning and problem solving capabilities. We can figure out the causes of our deep dissatisfaction and determine what we’re willing to sacrifice to overcome our dissatisfaction. Make no mistake about it, all dissatisfaction requires some degree of sacrifice to overcome. In order to be satisfied, we must be willing to give up something. But lucky for us, we get to choose what we’re willing to give up. We don’t have to bite each other’s ears and tails off to become satisfied. We can choose to give up all the anxiety and restlessness over our dissatisfaction instead…get rid of all the power of dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction is only as powerful as we allow it to be. The quickest, cleverest way to overcome dissatisfaction is by not allowing it to create anxiety and restlessness within you.
It’s no wonder that we close out this sermon series on the Ten Commandments by reflecting on the last two commandments together. Yes, they both have to do with the same topic-covetousness-but that topic is a pretty important topic. Covetousness is a sin that can lead us to not obeying several of the other commandments. Oftentimes we lie, steal, kill, or cheat simply because we are dissatisfied with what God has given us. Some of us even go so far as to deny God’s sovereignty and graciousness because of that dissatisfaction. We aren’t grateful or appreciative and it tears down our relationships with God and each other. Of course, this most displeases God! Our God is a God of relationship, of harmonious and life-giving relationship. Our God is also a wise and sovereign God. He knows what each of us needs and what each of us can steward well and He provides accordingly. Who are we to question his wisdom and sovereignty? Who are we to be ungrateful for what He so graciously provides each and every day? Who are we to be dissatisfied with anything God provides us? Our God is a good and gracious God!
Though it can lead to wrong behavior, dissatisfaction isn’t necessarily all that bad. It can also lead to necessary change and growth. We are not perfect and our world isn’t perfect and God expects us to continually adapt and grow in our understanding of ourselves and our world. Why? Because we are his good stewards of his fragile, broken world. We must adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of the world. Dissatisfaction can help motivate us to change and grow when God needs us to change and grow so we ought not forget its benefits.
God gives each of us exactly what we need, including a healthy dose of dissatisfaction. When it causes us anxiety and restlessness, it has lost its effectiveness in our lives. Don’t allow it to do that! Heed the wisdom of Paul as he wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (4:11-13) Contentment in all circumstances is the key to deep satisfaction. God gives and gives and gives, never forget this…trust in this! Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy, “Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” (6:6-8) There is great gain in contentment! Dissatisfaction has no power in our lives!
So as we close out this series on the Ten Commandments and move into our 4-week series on Peter’s first letter, let us be mindful of maintaining our contentment. Our God is a good and gracious God who so graciously gave us his commandments to help us and guide us. Our lives are better, more harmonious, more righteous for having them. Let us give thanks for them and seek to always heed them. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. .