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There is a positive alternative to the commandment, "Do not kill." It is--Be reconciled and live in peace, daily.
"You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.
"And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' [an Aramaic term of contempt] shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.
"Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
"Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny."
Matthew 5:21-26 NKJV
Looks, Words, Hands, Attitudes--They All Kill
Last evening Russ and I watched a video, a short story by William Faulkner, "Barn Burning." It's about a Mississippi sharecropper. Whenever he felt wronged or humiliated by someone, he burned down that person's barn. Then he packed up his family in their mule-driven wagon and moved away from the area. Family members couldn't remember how may times he had done this, was it 7 times or 9?
The story is told from the eyes of the sharecropper's adolescent son, whose character shines with all the traits of a wonderful child, including hope that this would be the last time his father would carry out the dreadful deed. In contrast the father is miserable, feared by his family and loathed by everyone who knew of him. By this point, the father was so hardened by his life experiences that he could not even recognize kindness when it was extended to him.
It's a great story for anyone who loves to discuss fictional characters and explore the reasons why they do what they do, and how people interact and influence each other. It was also a great back drop to help me understand what Jesus was saying in these verses. The father illustrated murder so clearly, even though in the movie he never literally killed anyone. The son illustrated the struggle of trying to create peace and stop the troubled actions of his father whose behavior had gone beyond the pale and seemingly past the threshold of no return. It was a 40-minute video; we watched it twice! Because Russ wanted to know about the father and what made him the way he was, and I wanted to know how the son could be such a beautiful person and continue to have hope.
Jesus began this discourse with the commandment everyone knew--Do not murder. You've all heard it. You all know not to do it. Then, Jesus said, there's more to this law than three simple words. Anger is an act of violence too, and angry speech has a devastating punch. Wait a minute now, we want to say. How do anger and hurtful words add up to murder? Jesus defined murder as not only something we do with our hands, it is also done with our attitudes and judgments. Which makes all of us offenders. We have all been angry at our brother or sister. We have all shouted words of contempt and insult. Instead of being able to point my shaming finger at the bad guys, Jesus points his finger right at me! Obviously some change is needed.
When the commandment, "Do not kill" is written not just on a page of the Bible but on our hearts as well, it breaks the cycle of destructiveness and sets us on the path of righteousness. And this is where that path will lead. You go to your house of worship to offer God his due. But then your worship is disturbed by the thought of a sister who betrayed your trust or a brother who judged you harshly. When these thoughts come to you, you must leave your gift at the altar, Jesus said, and immediately go to that sister or brother.
Brotherly love takes priority over love of God! Leave your gift, leave your prayers, your Bible reading, your worship and go find your brother who is lost to you. If you find him and are restored to your brotherly relationship, you will have met God, the Father of us all. You will have fulfilled God's law and can go back to your worship a transformed person and offer your gift.
We must take the initiative now before it's too late and the possibility for peace slips away. Make your peace along the way, Jesus said, before it's expected or required of you. There's urgency in these words. Hurry. Do it now. Be responsible for your future; take charge of your own life. Don't let others determine what will happen to you. Jesus warned that our reluctance to face our adversary and deal with the conflict could lead to severe consequences and we will have to pay a high price. The time is coming when we will face the judge and then it will be too late.
Reconciliation could start with a cautious smile, a kind thought, a gentle touch, a positive gesture. Settle the score with forgiveness and mercy, not with retaliation and malice.
When "Do not murder" is written on our hearts, it means we stop the fight. We lay down our arms and destroy the ammunition. We lovingly bind up each other's wounds. We surrender all the negative thinking and designs that drove the war. We reject the discord and in its place accept Christ's command to reconcile and live in peace.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Name three things that make you angry?Remember that in these verses, Jesus is talking about anger in our interpersonal relationships, directed toward/at people, our brothers and sisters. When people responded to the Icebreaker, was their anger directed at individuals or other targets? Who did Jesus include when he used the word "brother"?
Newer translations of the Bible are based on older manuscripts of this text which do not have the phrase "without a cause" in verse 22. How does the inclusion or exclusion of that phrase change our understanding of what Jesus said? Have you ever known people to excuse their anger at a brother or sister because they had good reason? Are there good reasons to maintain an atmosphere of conflict with "your brother"? Would Jesus agree with you?
Jesus is telling us to watch our communication. What are some of the awful words we shout at each other in anger? Talk about the effect these words have on children, youth, adults, and on the person doing the shouting. What does it take to assassinate someone's character or reputation?
Do you remember any angry names that were shouted at you which stayed with you for awhile and were hard to shake off? If you are willing, share something about that experience.Think about the people you condemn or gossip about, the family member who takes the brunt of your pent-up rage, someone who just rubs you the wrong way, the person receiving your murderous gaze. . . . If you were going to follow Jesus' command to be reconciled and make peace with these people, what actions would you need to take?
If you have ever been reconciled with someone after a time of angry separation, is there anything about that experience which you could share? By telling your story you could inspire others to have hope for peace in their own lives.
"But Jesus, you don't know my brother . . . my brother-in-law!", we may want to say that in protest to Jesus' words. Yet the fact is Jesus does know our brother. He loves all our brothers and sisters and died for them. So who are we to exclude from our lives someone for whom Christ died? If we think of our difficult relationship in light of God's great love for all of us, does that give us a new perspective and help us look at the person in a more positive way?