Commandment 9: Thou shall not covet thy neighbors wife.
In the version of the 10 Commandments found in the book of Exodus place both objects of covetous desires, your neighbor’s wife and his goods, into the same commandment. The version from Deuteronomy that most Catholics use finds the anti-envy command separated into two different commandments.
We will deal with the nature of envy per se in the next article in this series. For now, I want to focus on why coveting a person is put into a separate category.
More often than not, sins in regards to your neighbor’s spouse are covered in the commandment against adultery. But the element of coveting is a necessary component because more often than not, infidelity is born out of this covet.
Simply put, coveting is to have jealous desire. The 6th Commandment ideally covers all sexual sins, including the internal sin of lust. But coveting a person is not quite the same thing as lust.
In lust, there is that visceral yearning for that intense bodily pleasure that seeks its satisfaction in the body of another but not in their person. Love is about entering into relationship whereas lust does not care about relationship but only about pleasure that the body of another can give. That is why lust is a sin, because it takes someone made in the image and likeness of God and turns them from a subject of relationship into an object pleasure. It is literally dehumanizing.
But the 9th Commandment does not necessarily begin or end in lust.
To be sure, lust can be an integral component of the problem. But coveting your neighbor’s spouse can deal with so much more than the sexual.
Someone could see another’s happy relationship and feel envy. Take Jim and Pam from the TV show The Office: Pam is in a relationship with another man named Roy, but Jim has feelings for her. To be sure, he finds her physically attractive. But his feelings are not base lust. He cares about her and wants to be a more emotionally intimate part of her life. He wants to receive not just her physical affection but that special friendship that only those who are married can know. As a result, Jim would always find excuses to goof around with her and spend as much time with her in the closest proximity possible.
This, of course, could not last. This constant feeding of his affection eventually lead to a breaking point where Pam had to choose whether or not to break up her relationship.
This analogy is not perfect because Pam was not married, so Jim was not engaging in any sin. But it illustrates how Jim envied Roy and his relationship with Pam. If Pam and Roy had been married, Jim would have been committing sin because he would have been placing that marriage in jeopardy.
Once you are married, the dynamic of your relationships change. Many people that they can keep intimate one-on-one relationships with members of the opposite sex after they get married. And perhaps they can. But they would be foolish if they did not stay on guard against this coveting.
It is pernicious because it can occur without all of the usual guilty feelings that accompany lust. If you find yourself having a strong lustful attraction to another, it usually brings about a sense of shame. But if you merely enjoying the company of someone who is not a spouse, this warning sign of guilt may not be there to alert you to the danger.
Do not misunderstand: I am not saying that friendship cannot occur between married people and the people to whom they are not married. What I am saying is that you must be on guard against a jealous desire for intimacy, emotional or otherwise, with that person.
Perhaps you think I am being overly cautious. You may be correct. But the commitment of marriage is absolute, lifelong, and challenging. It is not to be taken for granted.
Also do not confuse attraction itself with coveting your neighbor’s spouse. As I have written previously, we may not have any control of our attractions. But we do have control over whether we feed and nurture these feelings. It is completely normal to be attracted to people to whom you are not married. But if you seek to gain pleasure from these attractions to someone already married, this is where the problem can form. If you spend a good deal of time feeding this desire by fantasizing about being in relationship to this person or by finding excuses to places yourself in more and more intimate situations, then you putting that marriage in jeopardy.
And marriage is a sacred, essential thing to human life. It needs to be supported not just from within the marriage, but from without.
So our Lord in His wisdom commanded us to avoid nurturing those desires that could erode that sacred bond.
We must remember to keep sacred boundaries so we can keep the sacred bond intact.
Copyright WL Grayson, 2017