6th Commandment - You Shall Not Murder/Kill
13 “You shall not murder.”
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the Gehenna of fire.
Once again, we are challenged by one of God’s commandments. On the face of it, this is a fairly easy commandment for most of us to follow. I do wonder, though, if we change the word ‘murder’ to ‘kill’ as is suggested as a possible textual change by many scholars, how does that alter our A+ rating by God on not murdering?
In some ways, I’m glad we have nuanced this word. In a TV series that I recently watched, set in England during the 40’s and 50’s, if a life was taken, regardless of the circumstances, it was considered murder which carried a sentence of death by hanging. We have come a long way since then. At least now, we understand the legal difference between degrees of murder, manslaughter, and self-defense. Each of these carries their own unique punishment.
However, in creating these nuances, have we missed God’s intent in the original commandment to not murder?
In the Biblical text, it doesn’t take long into the Book of Genesis before we encounter our first murder. Cain kills his brother Abel. God hears the earth cry out with Abel’s blood and confronts Cain about the incident. This murder takes place prior to the development of the law and what I call the tit-for-tat offenses (an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth). We actually see God showing Cain mercy, which should teach us something about the character of God.
As we move through the Biblical text, though, there are all kinds of situations where individual lives are lost, but the text does not treat them all the same. Sometimes we get the sense that murder is okay, such as the case of David and Uriah—after all, David could not live without Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. Or all the people ‘God’ kills so that the Israelites could possess the land. And, of course, there is the killing of Jesus by the Roman Empire, a death that we still celebrate over 2000 years later.
In our gospel message today, Jesus takes this commandment to a whole new level. Jesus counts the work of the community as vital and necessary. When community is violated, even with anger or any kind of mistreatment of another, it is a violation of the commandment not to murder.
What appears most critical to Jesus in this moment is tending to the brokenness of relationship. This is the work of righteousness, to be in “right-relationship” with. Anger and insults are two ways to keep the whole community fractured. We can look at our society today and see that anger and insults have become the norm for so many people. There isn’t any turning of the other cheek; praying for those who persecute you; or any other productive way to bring about healing.
When brokenness occurs in our respective communities, it not only divides us from ourselves, but it creates a distance between us and God. Jesus calls us to make things right as quickly as possible. When things fester inside of us, they can become resentments, which are extremely difficult to let go of. However, when we go to the person whom we have wronged or who has wronged us and take about it with honesty and openness, there is a chance for more of those things to heal themselves. It is amazing how far a genuine apology will stretch.
As we consider all the possibilities regarding Jesus’ deeper understanding of this commandment, may you actively seek ways to love your neighbor, your enemy, and everyone in between. It is incumbent upon us to make things right when we are involved in a disagreement. Be willing to humble yourselves before God and those with whom you need to make amends. The power of healing is known when we are willing to risk being vulnerable enough to admit our faults and to ask for forgiveness. May your need to heal your own brokenness be so powerful that you take all necessary steps to bring healing to your community as well.