Desire is a sign of life. Our bodies need food, water, protection, embrace…the list could go on. But, offspring of Adam, desire can glide into coveting, the root—so one recurrent biblical tradition—of sin. “You shall not covet” may be the 10th commandment (Exod 20:17), but it shows up in the Garden (“that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” [Gen. 3:6]). The conquest under Joshua is on the fast track—until Achan violates the ban at Jericho: “when I saw among the spoil a beautiful mantle from Shinar, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, then I coveted them and took them” (Jos. 7:21). When Paul reaches for an example of how sin subverts the law: “I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Rom. 7:7). Thus James “But one is tempted by one’s own desire” (Jas. 1:14).
Almost predictable, then, that in humanity’s new chapter as recorded in Acts, Ananias and Sapphira “channel” Eve and Achan in their accounting. Or that in John’s Gospel Jesus takes aim first at the temple commerce.
When I covet, the needs of the neighbor simply don’t matter. That “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39 etc.) circles back pretty quickly to that challenging border between (legitimate) desire and coveting. There’s personal work to be done. And that $8 billion for weapons systems tucked into the $1 trillion package for COVID response proposed by one of our parties—probably not on the right side of that border. There’s corporate work to be done.