The tenth commandment is “You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.” As with the ninth, this commandment is found within and implied by the larger formulation given in Exodus 20:17: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Similar to the seventh (you shall not steal), this command establishes respect for the possessions of others. However, while the seventh deals with not unjustly acquiring that of another, this tenth commandment deals more directly with envy toward another – both in who they are and in what they materially possess, and greed of building up wealth.
In The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, the tenth commandment is explained as forbidding “all desire to take or keep unjustly what belongs to others, and also [the command] forbids envy at their success.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks to this commandment in reference to intentions within hearts, particularly mindful of how greed and envy are disordered expressions that stem from the natural appetites and desires in our hearts toward filling our legitimate needs (such as eating when we hunger, seeking sleep when tired, etc.).
Greed can be defined as a disordered desire to acquire beyond our true needs, or in an unlimited way. Such an intention of the heart can easily lead to injustices wherein one acquires money or goods unfairly or by cheating others. Accordingly, to guard against greed includes guarding against any tendencies toward injustice to our neighbor.
Envy is what the Catechism calls “Sadness at the sign of another’s goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly” (CCC 2539). Note that one’s own “goods” in this case need not be material – but can also be the talents and particular attributes of the person. Such envy of attributes makes this sin all the more problematic – as it can lead one to other kinds sins that harm others or ourselves.
On the opposite side of greed and envy are two virtues that aid us in not falling: namely, charity (lived as generosity), and kindness. Remembering from earlier columns that the virtues are dispositions toward the good that are aided by God’s grace, our continuing to grow in these virtues aids us in turning toward God and away from sinful tendencies – including such sins as envy and greed.
Within this tenth commandment we have place to recall a fundamental truth of who we are in relationship to God: That as creatures of God who have been made to share in His eternal life and communion, our true fulfillment is found only in Him. Said another way in reference to the desires of our hearts: God alone suffices In the hope of growing deeper in relationship with God through this series, this basic truth is worth our continued praying and reflecting upon – minding that we are to (as Jesus says in Matthew 6:33) “Seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Thus, as we continue in our series – having treated the ten commandments, might we continue forward with confidence that when we place our desires in God’s hands, and truly seek to make Him alone as our true desire, we will lack nothing (even if we still may lack worldly goods) as He alone is our fulfillment.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2534 - 2557 offers explanation of the tenth commandment with attention to the sins of greed and envy and encouragement in seeking God through poverty of spirit.