Friday, August 1, 2008

Do not murder...

"You shall not murder."--Exodus 20:13
   This scene of Cain murdering Abel is from the 1432 Ghent Altarpiece, and it's a vivid reminder that murder, the subject of the sixth commandment, has been an issue for humanity since the very first family.
  On the surface, the sixth commandment is straightforward and doesn't engender much debate--all societies have some sort of prohibition against murder.  And murder is the best translation of the Hebrew word.  In the Old Testament there are several words related to killing, and it is clear that some kinds of killing are presented as not only not wrong, but even appropriate in certain situations.  This word covers what we would classify as murder, but also can include cases of accidental killing.  This commandment does not prohibit killing in warfare or capital punishment, both of which are recognized by Scripture as legitimate under certain conditions.  
   So, on the surface there seems little pointed about this commandment for most of us--we know we shouldn't murder, and it is unlikely that most of us ever will.  So we're off the hook.  Or are we?
   Not quite.  The implications of this commandment go much deeper than the outward act of murder in two ways.  First, we've got Jesus' penetrating analysis of the law in Matthew 5:21-22.
 "You have heard that it was said to those of old: 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.'  But I say to to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire." 
 What's he getting at?  Murder, like every sin, springs from the heart and can fester in our hearts even if it never translates into an act of violence against another person.  When hate takes root in our lives, we are guilty of breaking the sixth commandment, of murdering our neighbor in our hearts.  So... every bitter thought, every indulgence in a sweet morsel of gossip, every cold look, every snide remark, every dismissive comment, every time we inwardly smile at the misfortunes of another... murder.  Who is guilty?  Who breaks this commandment?  Who needs rescue and mercy and grace?  We do.
  But that's not all.  Each of the ten commandments has bearing on our lives in two ways--in what they prohibit, and also in what they, by extension, enjoin upon us.  So, not only are forbidden to take the life of another, or bring damage or injury, we are also called to act for the good of our neighbor, for his peace, his flourishing, his health.  Not only do we not rob our neighbor of his life, we are responsible for positively guarding his life as well.  Scripture is full of God's heart, for example, for the poor, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan.  Those marginalized by society are to be cared for by God's people.  Jesus taught this clearly and pointedly, painfully even, in Matthew 25.  He tells of the last judgment, when the "sheep and the goats" are separated.  And the one group will inherit eternal life, and the other eternal curse.  And that judgment, in this sermon, hinges on the care of those in need.  Those who receive life are commended for caring for the needy, and those who receive judgment withheld care for those in need.  Here's what he says to those who are condemned:
"...I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'  Then they will answer, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?'  Then he will answer them, saying, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.'"
What's he saying?  Not that care for the needy and mercy earn salvation, but that they are certainly to be the fruit of salvation--the fruit of a life forgiven and transformed by the love of Jesus.  Jesus comes to us as we are lost in our sin, but he does not leave us there.  He is about the work of turning us, as we've said often in our Exodus sermon series, into "love God and love neighbor kinds of people."

No comments:

Post a Comment