“You shall not murder.”- Exodus 20:13
The ways that different translations express Exodus 20:13 are fascinating. At the root of them are the ways we’ve taken the ancient Hebrew text and wrapped it around how we want to hear it.
“Don’t murder.” ‘Okay, got it. So as long as it’s defensively violent, it’s okay. But doing it just to do it is wrong.’
“You are not to murder.” ‘Okay, check. I will not plan out the death of another human being. But it’s probably okay if I kill them on the spot…’
“You shall not kill.” ‘Okay, so you’re saying I’m supposed to be a vegan? Maybe not….’
But there’s something about this “you shall not murder” that grabs my attention. ‘You’ the subject of the sentence are God’s people assembled at the foot of Mount Sinai; ‘you’ as God’s people are all of us sitting here; ‘you’ as God’s people is differentiated from ‘those people’ out there who don’t necessarily get it or agree.
“You” as in, not the I AM, not God. God decides who lives or dies. Not you. Not the you who is petty and fickle and frustrated and temperamental. Not the you who hasn’t had a Snickers yet and acts like a diva.
There’s a difference that God is making in how he sets it up. “Honor your father and mother” comes across like a universal rule (‘hey, it makes sense to take care of your parents’) while “you (my people) shall not murder,” tells us that God is calling his people, his followers, his folks, to something that will stand out from the way that the rest of the world works.
But, of course, Jesus shows up in Matthew 5:21-26 and he takes it to a whole other level…
In Matthew 5:21-26, he drops one of those “you have heard it said..” which always follows with a “but I tell you.” It’s the equivalent of ‘so you think you have it worked out, but…’ or ‘I don’t want you getting cocky about how awesome you are, so…”
Jesus says that the people know they aren’t supposed to murder anyone, but he’s telling them that they aren’t supposed to be angry with a brother or sister. Jesus says that anyone who says, “raca” or ‘you’re worthless, go to hell’ is in fact in danger of going to hell!
Last week, I asked us to consider if we’d still be alive based on the Old Testament law that said anyone who cursed or ‘hit’ his/her parents would be put to death. Many of us wouldn’t have made it out of our teenage years! But have you ever stopped and considered that Jesus held being angry with a brother or sister, biologically or in the body of Christ, that he held that equivalent to bringing hell into the equation?
“It’s getting hot in herrrrrrre….” but I don’t think that’s what Nelly meant!
Jesus says that instead of being angry, we should be about peace. He told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.
Do I love my enemies, both known by name because they’re in relationship with me? Do I pray for those who persecute me, whether they are here or across the ocean, whether they are personal or nationally-related?
Do I recognize the power of my words in my interactions with others?
Tobymac, a Christian musician, has a great song called “Speak Life” that gets stuck in my head.
Some days, life feels perfect.
Other days it just ain’t workin.
The good, the bad, the right, the wrong
And everything in between.
Its crazy, amazing
We can turn a heart with the words we say.
Mountains crumble with every syllable.
Hope can live or die
So speak Life, speak Life.
To the deadest darkest night.
Speak life, speak Life.
When the sun wont shine and you don’t know why.
Look into the eyes of the brokenhearted;
Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope,
You speak love, You speak Life.
Do we see that? Do we recognize how our lives impact others, for good or for bad, how our words can bring peace or violence, how it’s not just in the moment when the bullet fires that life is affected?
Jesus urges us to think ahead of time!
Jesus said, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison.” That sounds like the DirecTV commercial! “You have cable so you stay at home. Because you stay at home, squirrels dig into your attic to get your trash. Because squirrels dig in, the electrical wiring gets chewed. Because the electrical wiring gets chewed, your house catches on fire. Because your house catches on fire…” Well, you get it.
Jesus doesn’t just say we should forgive the person we’re taking to court. He says we should forgive the person who is taking us to court. Whether we’ve done anything wrong or not, it doesn’t matter. But Jesus has pulled the rug back the whole way, past murder and actual physical violence, to the way we relate to other people when we’re settling conflict.
The truth is, we make excuses for why killing is okay. We have a ‘just war theology’ thanks to some of the writings of St. Augustine. We call things by different names, like “the war of Northern Aggression,” or announce that there are WMDs… but I’m getting sidetracked.
The truth is, that since there have been people, there has been murder. Cain killed Abel because he was jealous of the attention Abel got from God. It’s the first family unit on Earth, and we’ve already seen a murder. Jerry Springer rejoices!
Would it have been justifiable for Adam to kill Cain? Our capital punishment proponents think so. They’re still living under lex talionis from the Babylonian law of 1725 B.C.! That’s what Jesus was expressing when he said again, “you’ve heard it said an eye for an eye… but I say, But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
Whoa! Jesus is going up against thousands of years of tradition, and dare I say, the way that we as human beings are wired. We want justice. We watch movies to see the bad guy get his due. We want to be avenged when we are wronged.
But we imagine slights that aren’t there. We see stories about people beaten down over a traffic incident, and kids shot for a pair of shoes.
Jesus isn’t talking about not murdering, he’s talking about not letting it get to that point. He knows that the truth is that killing brings more killing. He knows that soldiers go off to war, trained to kill, and come home without support or an understanding of what to do next- just look at Fort Hood. Jesus knows that laws and judges don’t always get it right and that sometimes, that the system is racial, economic, and broken, that the system executes the wrong man.
Let that one sit there and percolate a little bit.
The same man who preached that we should turn the other cheek, that we shouldn’t murder, ends up the victim of capital punishment gone wrong…He’s killed instead of the terrorist Barabbas because people were politically opposed to him, he dies for our sins that he didn’t commit because he’s sinless, he suffers an agonizing death for no good reason.
But rather than fighting back, Jesus walks that lonely road because evil can’t stop evil, because two wrongs don’t make a right, because the only way violence will ever stop is if we choose to give life, to live in peace.
From the United Methodist Church’s Social Principles:
“Content, representations, pictures, scenes, [in the media] are often in a stark contrast to human and Christian values. We express disdain of dehumanizing portrayals, sensationalized through mass media ‘entertainment’ and ‘news.’ These practices degrade humankind and violate the teachings of Christ and the Bible… Instead of encouraging, motivating, and inspiring its audiences to adopt lifestyles based on the sanctity of life, the entertainment industry often advocates the opposite, painting a cynical picture of violence, abuse, greed, profanity, and a constant denigration of the family. For the sake of our human family, Christians must work together to halt this erosion of moral and ethical values in the world community. We reject the implicit message that conflicts can be resolved and just peace can be established by violence.”
“We believe war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ. We therefore reject war as an instrument of national foreign policy. We oppose unilateral first/preemptive strike actions and strategies on the part of any government. As disciples of Christ, we are called to love our enemies, seek justice, and serve as reconcilers of conflict.”
We’re back to images of family, of love, of bearing peace into the world. Two of our current Methodist theologians, Stanley Hauerwas & Will Willimon, wrote, in The Truth about God: “Our time might be better spent wondering how we might change the church to be the sort of place that produces and supports nonviolent people.”
Am I nonviolent? Are you nonviolent? Can we take it a step further and say that we are actively making peace? Not avoiding conflict, or minimizing it, but actually moving toward peace? Can we claim that our words, our financial choices, our nonverbal behavior, our actions all breathe peace?
That we act loving toward our enemies?
That we share the good news of Jesus Christ?
Nowhere in the New Testament does it condone killing. No. Where.
Instead, it focuses on those images of family and “loving your neighbor” that are echoed in the Old Testament but which Jesus hammered home. Or rather, were hammered into him.
What is the opposite of “to kill”? It’s to make live, to bring to life.
God knew that the sanctity of life had been destroyed for the Israelites. They’d been slaves. They couldn’t get it. But we’ve been slaves, too. Slaves to our passion, our irritation, our belief in our own self-importance.
We need to pour water on fires, not more gasoline. We need more of the peace of Christ, the love of Jesus, the kingdom of God!
In I John 3:15-18, the writer explained his motivation for loving. First, he says, “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” But then he gives his explanation of love: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
It’s not enough to just not hit back, we’re supposed to act in love even when we don’t feel it.
We’re supposed to go the extra mile. We’re supposed to love in the truth that we were loved first, that Jesus put his life where his words were, that we’re only trying to follow our leader.
We know what the world expects, what our friends would do, what we feel like or want to do. But Jesus came to drive home the message, to remind us of the “You” God was speaking to in Exodus.
You, the redeemed, the created in the image of God, the loved, the children of, the ones who are called to bring on the kingdom of God.
You, the next time someone cuts you off, pray that they and those around them would be kept safe by their driving.
You, the next time the waitress messes up your order, pray that she would make enough money to take care of her family, and then tip her like she’d done a great job.
You, the next time you go to call someone a fool or to “rip them a new one,” stop and pray for their wellbeing, consider their heart, recognize that you don’t know what they’re going through.
It sure beats the flames of hell.