“You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.” (Exodus 20: 17)
A wonderful story that captures well this commandment comes from Dr. Steve Thomas, son of the legendary Las Vegas banker of the 1950’s – 1980’s, E. Parry Thomas:
“I remember one time coming to Dad and asking him about a business
deal I was offered that sounded really good to me. What I got from his
answer was he thought I was getting a better deal than the person who was
offering it to me. He said, ‘That sounds really great for you, but if it isn’t
as good for the guy you are doing business with, then it’s not going to
last. It’s not a good business deal unless you both end up better off.”
Implicit in this story is the virtue of respect. Respect is an attitude of caring about people and treating each person with dignity.
This commandment also includes respecting the right of everyone to have material goods sufficient for meeting their basic needs, especially food, clothing, medical care, and shelter.
What might some disorders of this commandment look like? Here are a few.
- Greed. The tenth commandment warns against seeking to amass earthly goods without limit, when our desires (good in themselves) exceed the limits of reason.
- Envy. A friend of mine who is an educator suggests that this commandment is a warning against the language of discontent at our own lot in life, and envy at another’s. This may be the most difficult of the commandments to keep in our consumer driven culture. Every day we are bombarded with advertisements that tell us what we should want, and buy, as the roads to happiness. Much of our envy is driven by comparing what we have with what others have and finding ourselves wanting.
- Injustice. Catholic social teaching puts special emphasis on the human person, raised to a new dignity by the birth of Jesus the Christ. This means that every judgment about economic life must ask two basic questions: What does this do for people, and to people, especially the poor and defenseless, who have a special claim to our concern?
- Avarice. This vice consists of having a passion for riches and their attendant power. The most blatant modern example is the exorbitant compensation packages being paid to, and being accepted by, some corporate executives in a time when the economy has severely hurt many of their employees and the average American. Less visible but also avaricious are those public unions, again in our recession, who are not willing to make monetary concessions for the common good of their cities or states.
On the positive side, it is inspiring to see people who do not succumb to the seductiveness of coveting their neighbor’s goods – who look out for the ‘other guy’ as Dr. Steve Thomas learned from his father; who value confidence over comparison; who do not seek their ultimate happiness in material possessions; who show a caring attitude and action towards those in society who are living on the margins; and, finally, who are not resentful of the success of others. They are truly living the spirit of the Tenth and, indeed, of all of the commandments.
Quiet Kingmaker of Las Vegas: E. Parry Thomas, by Jack Sheehan (Las Vegas, NV: Stephens Press, 2009)
Leonard Foley, OFM; Reflections on the social teaching of the Catholic Church.
(April/May 2011 Newsletter)