Desire and the Rich Young Ruler
All three synoptic gospels record an encounter between Jesus and a rich man seeking the way to eternal life. Since Matthew (19:!" describes the man as young and #uke (1$:1$" identifies him as a ruler% he is commonly known as &the rich young ruler.&Jesus initially directs the man to se'eral commandments of od:)*ou know the commandments: +,o not murder% ,o not commit adultery% ,o not steal% ,o not bear false witness% ,o not defraud% -onor your father and mother./ (Mark 1!:19% 0S"2his listing includes fi'e of the ten commandments% along with &do not defraud.& 2o e3plain the presence of do not defraud in the list% commentators fre4uently obser'e that this is one way to state the commandment forbidding the co'eting of another5s possessions% &2he command 6do not defraud5 between the references to the 7inth and 8ifth ommandments is substituted for the 2enth ommandment% 6*ou shall not co'et.5 8raud is a concrete e3ample of co'etousness and a special temptation of the rich.& 1;<ther sources concur that by Jesus5 time% the sin of defrauding another was associated with the commandment against co'eting. 2he association was based partly on #e' 19:1=: &,o not defraud your neighbor or rob him. ,o not hold back the wages of a hired man o'ernight.& Since 'erses 11 and 1 of #e' 19 deal% respecti'ely% with the commandments against theft and false witness% a link was made between the ne3t 'erse ('. 1=" and the ne3t commandment in the ,ecalogue. ; ertainly all the sins described in #e' 19:1= are concrete ways to act upon a desire for something that rightfully belongs to another.>ut if Jesus was thinking of &do not defraud& as an e3ample of &do not co'et your neighbor5s possessions&% why didn5t he ?ust state the more familiar prohibition against co'eting instead@ ould it be that the Messiahs words% 'iewed in the conte3t of an ongoing discussion in the Second 2emple eriod% present us with an e'en deeper understanding of his intent in Mark 1!:19B@ 2his article presents a brief sur'ey of what the -ebrew Scriptures% intertestamental and early rabbinic literature ha'e to say about co'etousness and desire% in order to shed additional light on this familiar story. =;
Appropriate and Inappropriate Desires
2he tenth commandmentCor% in some traditions% the ninth and tenthCstates% )*ou shall not co'et your neighbors houseD you shall not co'et your neighbors wife% or his male ser'ant% or his female ser'ant% or his o3% or his donkey% or anything that is your neighbors/ (03od !:1E". Fhat is forbidden here is not desire itself% but desire for the possessions of another.Starting in the arden of 0den% the -ebrew Scriptures teach that we ha'e been gi'en many good things to en?oy% and we should en?oy them sub?ect to guidelines that od has put in place (en :1GB1E". 7ote for e3ample the festi'al tithe commandment in ,eut 1H:BE% which says in part%&and spend the money for whate'er you desireCo3en or sheep or wine or strong drink% whate'er your appetite cra'es I& ('. G% 0S".2he phrase &whate'er you desire& lea'es the worshiper a lot of leeway% but it is meant to be read in light of the rest of the 2orah. 8or instance% earlier in ,eut 1H we find restrictions on the 'arieties of meat that may be eaten.2he -ebrew Scriptures identify some 'aluable entities that are especially worth desiring. 2hese include the ?udgments of od (s 19:9B1!"% od5s &name and renown& (sa G:$B9"% and the temple (0Kek H:1G% 1". <n the other hand% a number of passages show the conse4uences of co'eting what is not ours. 2hink of the e3amples of Achan (Joshua E"% ,a'id and >athsheba ( Sam 11B1"% and Ahab with 7aboth5s 'ineyard ( Lings 1". 2he book of ro'erbs repeatedly warns against falling into the trap of illicit desire (ro' BG% e.g.".2he prophets caution that in e3ile% srael would lose many precious and desirable things% including the temple and its 'essels along with the land ( hron =G:1!%19D #am 1:E%1!D -osea 9:G%1GD1=:1D Nech E:1H" -ere we see that od% for the longBterm spiritual benefit of his people% may sometimes depri'e them of things that can be rightfully desired under ordinary circumstances.
ontinued reflection on both the positi'e and negati'e aspects of desire is present in the Apocrypha. H; <n the positi'e side% Sirach 1H:1H says that we should en?oy the desirable things that od has gi'en us: &,o not depri'e yourself of a day5s en?oymentD do not let your share of desired good pass by you.& Fisdom of Solomon G mentions some especially desirable things: &2he beginning of wisdom is the most sincere desire for instructionI/ . ('.G"D and &... the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom& ('. !".<n the negati'e side% there is increasing emphasis on the dangers of desires in general and the need to keep them under control. Sirach : cautions% &,o not follow your inclination and strength in pursuing the desires of your heart.& Sirach 1$:=! adds% &,o not follow your base desires% but restrain your appetites.& n =:BG% >en Sirach prays% &... remo'e e'il desire from meD #et neither gluttony nor lust o'ercome me% and do not gi'e me o'er to shameless passion.&2he book of H Maccabees stresses the importance of selfBcontrol and asserts that the power of reason can be brought to bear to con4uer lusts (H Macc :H". f od had not made humans capable of ruling their desires and emotions% this book argues% he would not ha'e instituted the commandment against co'eting (''. BG". 2he author praises Joseph for resisting the ad'ances of otiphar5s wife by &mental effort& ('. ".
Covetousness in Rabbinic Tradition
n rabbinic literature% as in intertestamental sources% the patriarchs (and Joseph in particular" are praised for con4uering desires and obeying od5s commandments. After stating that Joseph had kept the ten commandments% #e'iticus Oabbah :1! says of the patriarchs% &0'en though unto them the 2orah had not yet been gi'en% they fulfilled it of their own accord. 8or this reason the -oly <ne% blessed be -e% lo'ed them with a complete lo'e% and made their name like unto -is own great name.&