Rev. E.B. Holschuh
An article about a thief caught my eye in a recent issue of The Week magazine. It struck me as a great topic for a Lent devotional, an opportunity to look at God’s Law, how sin pollutes even the kindest of hearts, and God’s solution to our 10-fold problem: We just can’t obey God’s Law, instructions meant for everyone on Earth long before there were Christians.
In the second book of the Bible, Moses brings the Ten Commandments down from Mt. Sinai (Exodus 32:5-16). The first three tell us how we should live in relation to God; the remaining seven tell us how we should live in relation to our fellow human beings. Lutherans look at it in the form of the Cross: our vertical relationship with God, then our horizontal relationship with others, distilled down to what’s known as Christ’s Law. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)
From the beginning, we’re to have only one God, we’re not to disgrace His name, and we’re to go to church. Next come the seven don’ts—don’t neglect/abuse your parents, murder, cheat on your spouse, steal, say mean or false things about others, nor covet…wait…what? Covet? Yes, covet. If sin were a baseball bat, coveting would be the sweet spot.
According to The Week, Frenchman Stephane Breitwieser “has robbed more than $1.4 billion worth of art from nearly 200 museums and steals like he’s performing a magic trick, without violence or a frantic getaway. When he sees a piece he likes, says Breitwieser, 47, ‘I get smitten. Looking at something beautiful, I can’t help but weep.’ He never sells anything he steals, but simply brings the work home to adore. ‘The pleasure of having,’ he says, ‘is stronger than the fear of stealing.’”
Coveting is a stealthy sin that manifests itself in the behaviors of the self-righteous, the self-absorbed, the self-loving and self-gratifying. Let’s face it; coveting is the dark art of not just desiring but getting what we want (what doesn’t belong to us, in most cases). It means obsessing over something, believing we can’t be happy without it, or trying to figure out how to get it. Coveting is dissatisfaction with all God’s given us—believing that we know what we need and what will make us happy better than God does.
We covet to fill a need or void, to have something we think we deserve, even if it’s something (money, property, spouse, job, status, etc.) that belongs to someone else. Coveting replaces our God with one or more little gods and is the catalyst for crime, whether art theft or something more violent, like murder or rape. Coveting breaks up families and infects our relationship with God and others.
This Lenten season, I am trying to focus more on all that God has given me, in spite of my daily transgressions rather than on what I don’t have. I am trying to focus more on the Cross, where Jesus endured the wrath of God for my sin, in place of me. I am trying to remember daily that, in Christ Jesus, I have everything I need.
Stephane Breitwieser “is perhaps the most prolific art thief in history.” God, on the other hand, is the most prolific artist in history. When we dabble in the art of coveting, we, too, are art thieves, the likes of which Breitwieser pales in comparison!
Pastor E.B. Holschuh serves at Zion Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Alamo. He is a retired Navy senior chief and former English and Russian teacher.