The Heart of the Matter
“If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (Mark 5:30).
Jesus says some startling stuff in the midst of His teaching. But minds and consciences that think of sin but lightly are minds and consciences that are in desperate need of being startled. When Jesus talks about gouging out eyes that sin and cutting off hands that sin, He is distilling for the hearer the actual font of sin—never eyes, never hands—but always hearts.
These ﬁnal two fenceposts forbid coveting—desiring a thing that is not our own. They are daggers to the heart of every human being. They startle us from our lofty perches where we see all the “gross sins” beneath us: the burglary and the sexual escapades and the murder. They startle us such that eyes and hands are never really the guilty parties. “You shall not covet” says if we’re going to do any “cutting” or “gouging” that will eradicate sin from us and our lives, it will have to be a cardiectomy—an excising of “the heart,” the essence of our being and our desires.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
But as God’s fence is wont to do, it doesn’t merely show us what doesn’t belong in our lives. It also serves to show us the good that does belong. In explaining these commands, Dr. Luther helps to promote that good. Beyond the killer prohibition of coveting, we get the promotion of helping, serving, and urging. Speciﬁcally, helping and serving our neighbor to keep and protect what God has seen ﬁt to give him/her and urging wife and workers to stay where God called them.
When the rancher’s fence breaks, we can eagerly help him round up his cattle and restore his fence. When our neighbor deploys overseas, we can go the extra mile to ensure his wife and family are assisted and cared for and that the wife is urged to stay faithfully married to her deployed husband in service of his fellow man.
We are killed by the prohibition and instructed by the promotion. But we are enlivened by the fulﬁllment of this commandment by our Savior—the Christ. Jesus our Savior didn’t ever covet—not even that which properly belonged to Him. “He did not consider equality with God as a prize to be displayed, but he emptied himself” (Philippians 2:6-7). And more than avoiding the sinful desire, Jesus did “stay and do His duty.” He stayed where His Father called Him to serve, under the Law to redeem you and me with His holy precious blood, with His innocent suffering and death. He stayed. He helped and served us that we might be and remain His very own. That we might serve Him now—by serving our neighbor—and ﬁnally in His eternal Kingdom.
The Ninth Commandment
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not craftily seek to gain our neighbor’s inheritance or home, nor get it by a show of right, but help and serve him in keeping it.
The Tenth Commandment
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his cattle, nor anything that is his.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we do not tempt, force or coax away from our neighbor his wife or his workers, but urge them to stay and do their duty.
Rev. Kyle Madson
Editor, The Lutheran Sentinel
Norseland Lutheran Church
St. Peter, MN
Norwegian Grove Lutheran Church