The Third Midweek in Lent
March 10-11, 2009
Text: Exodus 20:13
Dear Friends in Christ,
Four short words. It doesn’t seem like much. You shall not murder, or as you may have learned it, you shall not kill. The Hebrew word used here is Ratzah. Like all Hebrew verbs, this word has a couple hundred forms. As you take it through the forms, you get the shades of meaning. So literally from the Hebrew - you shall not kill intensely. In good in English - you shall not murder.
Human life has a special place in God’s creation. Human beings are created in the image of God. They are thus protected. We are not given the right to take human life. What about animal life. Do we have a right to take animal life? Yes, but not wantonly. In Genesis 9 we read: “The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:2-6) Here God distinguishes between animals and man. We can kill animals for food and other reasonable purposes, such as clothing and medicine. They are in our hands. But we are also to be stewards of all that is in the earth, including the animals.
Notice one other thing that God says - “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed...” God allows for capital punishment, soldiers acting in time of war, police acting in the line of duty, self defense and the like. Violence falls upon the violent. And yes this retribution - that is vengeance. But these things are never carried out privately. It is only when one is acting in the name of society that they can do this. I cannot carry out an execution. But an executioner, properly authorized by the civil authorities, does a good and godly thing when he takes the lives of those placed in his hands.
Likewise we must understand the length of this protection. It goes from conception to natural death. Thus the Church from its earliest days rejected abortion and infanticide, even though these were common practices of the day. In our day, Dr. George Tiller, is one of the most infamous abortion doctors in the nation. He was once a member of an LCMS congregation. He was excommunicated because he was unwilling to repent of this gross evil. Sadly, he was received by an ELCA congregation. So instead of getting the clear message that he needs to repent, Dr. Tiller is being told by false prophets that he can go on sinning. The judgement will fall hard not only upon Dr. Tiller, for his unrepentance, but also upon those false prophets who are condoning his sin.
Likewise on the other end of life. We are not to do anything to shorten life. All basic care must be provided until that time when God ends the life. The early Christians were so possessed of this idea that at least basic medical care must be provided to all, that they did something that had never been done in the history of the world. They built a new kind of institution. It was an institution that the pagan world could not comprehend. It was called a hospital. There were physicians before there were Christians, but they generally only served the very rich and powerful. Christians look at a person and see the image of God. Though it might be obscured and covered over, it’s still there. There is a person created in the image of God. Therefore we must provide for their physical well being, if they cannot.
As always, our views on life and its sacredness start in our hearts. As Christ explains, if we hate our brother, we are a murderer. It is from the heart that all evil proceeds. So also our obedience. It must start with our hearts. Shaping our hearts into the form of Christ, starts with our own repentance. We start by repenting of all the times and all the ways in which we failed to value life as we ought. Then from the foundation of repentance we start to rebuild our hearts and our thinking. And from our repentant hearts also comes a desire to follow God’s will for life.
You shall not murder. It seems so short. There doesn’t seem like anything is there. And of course we’re not mafia torpedoes from Detroit, what do we have to worry about? We’re not going around killing people. But do we value life, from conception until natural death. Do we understand that each human being is created in the image of God and therefore it is not for us to trifle with. In fact, just the opposite, we are to protect life, defend life, and uphold life. As in all the commandments, we fail to do this as we ought. We do not always uphold life. So in this the commandment shows us our sins. It drives us to the cross. For only in the death of Christ, is life, as God intends, upheld.