“Thou shalt not kill.” Exodus 20:13 (KJV)
“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13 (NRSV)
The sixth of the Ten Commandments commands us not to kill another human. That is, if you are reading the King James Version of the Bible. However, if you happen to be reading the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, you will read that we are not to murder another human. So which is it: do not kill, or do not murder?
At yesterday’s adult study on the Ten Commandments, the group had a lively conversation about the difference between killing and murdering another human:
· Is it considered murder if you kill another human in self-defense, or in defense of your family?
· Is it considered murder if the killer does not understand that killing is wrong?
· Is capital punishment contrary to the sixth commandment?
· How about killing an enemy in a war?
The conversation moved to the challenges and sorrow of the American Civil War, where, in the literal sense, neighbor fought against neighbor and brother fought against brother. This reminded me of a movie I saw ages ago, in which a family was divided by members fighting on the side of the North, and those fighting on the side of the South. I remembered the lead character of this movie being tall, dark, and handsome. Gregory Peck came to mind. But when I later did a Google search, I came upon a web page devoted to this movie, “Friendly Persuasion”, with the tall, dark, and handsome Gary Cooper in the lead. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is about a Quaker family (Quakers were pacifists) living in Indiana during the American Civil War, and of the challenges this tight-knit family faced over both the idea of war and killing (against the Sixth Commandment) and if one chose to fight, which side to fight on.
The acknowledgment that each of us is capable of ending another person’s life is unnerving and unsettling. Unless we are in a vocation that includes the possibility of taking another person’s life—law enforcement or the armed forces, for example—our thoughts do not even want to go to that dark place. And for those who killed another human as part of their vocation, the emotional scars that they carry can kill their souls.
Jewish tradition, as reflected in the Ten Commandments, prohibits taking the life of another human in most circumstances; we humans have been made in God’s image—the Imago Dei—and when a human life is taken, it hurts God, the Creator of all.
The sixth commandment offers more questions than answers to the topic of killing another human. Add to that the differences in versions of the Bible, and what, if any, are the differences between killing and murder. There is no easy answer to this conundrum! But let’s see what Jesus says about killing, for he likes to take the scripture and moral codes of his Jewish tradition and expand on it to offer new, deeper, and even more challenging ways of understanding:
"You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.
“This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.
“Or say you’re out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don’t lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you’re likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. If that happens, you won’t get out without a stiff fine.
Matthew 5: 21-26
It may be easy for us to vow never to kill another person, but not so easy to vow to never kill another person through words!
My prayer is that you and I may take time to reflect on the sixth commandment, and how Jesus offers us a new way of understanding the notion of ‘killing’ another person emotionally and spiritually with hurtful words. And my prayer is that you and I rely on Jesus’ voice to stop us before we use words to hurt another human—who was made in the image of God!
Honor your father and your other
so that your life will be long on the fertile land
that Yahweh your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12)
Last weekend Eric and I had a houseful of family: sons Hans and Leif, daughter-in-law Beyza, and granddaughters Kysi and Clea. Despite the tenuous weather forecast, we turned the backyard into a weekend playground; badminton, corn-hole, and the girls’ new pink and purple playhouse provided hours of fun for everyone. Beyza and the boys took over the kitchen, creating wonderful meals using veggies from our garden. The garage was transformed into a game room for Hans and Leif’s War Hammer collection. And naturally, my mom Fran--91-year old family matriarch-- was there to just to sit and smile and take it all in!
With COVID19-related shutdowns lifted this past spring, my brothers and I decided it would be best for Mom to live near me, rather than five hours away in Park Rapids. So, during my two-week ‘vacation’, we moved her down to Rochester and got her settled into her new apartment at The Waters. Watching Mom finally hold her two great-granddaughters on her lap last weekend made the work of moving her worthwhile!
Many, many times during Mom’s move, she would say to me and my brothers, “How can I ever repay you for all that you have done? I could never have moved on my own!” Our response was to let her know that repayment wasn’t necessary, for we did it out of love. And, we reminded her, many years ago she did a lot to help her own parents out when they became elderly. Mom would end this exchange with, “Well, I hope that someday your own kids take care of you, too!”
The fifth of the Ten Commandments tells us to honor our parents. In biblical times, doing so could be a matter of life and death, for there was no such thing as Social Security or nursing homes. Having offspring ensured that when old age appeared and working was no longer an option, one’s children would provide food and shelter. For widows especially, having a son was essential in old age, for a woman without a husband who was past the age of bearing children had no control over her life.
For some who experienced parental abuse or neglect as a child, this commandment may evoke hurtful memories. I believe though, that this command to love one’s parents can expand to include any adult who offers unconditional love and care to a child. I have heard it said that it only takes one such adult to keep a child on the straight and narrow, providing a safe space for the wonder and joy and happiness of life to blossom and grow.
Whether through a birth parent or other loving adult, my prayer is that you have childhood memories of someone who loved and nurtured you as a beloved child of God!
This past Sunday millions of Americans celebrated Independence Day. Because Independence Day 2021 happened to fall on the Christian Sabbath day, my mind that morning was focused on the most important thing of the day: praising God with fellow Christians through prayer, song, scripture, and Communion. It wasn’t until that afternoon, while relaxing with Mom in our backyard, that I shifted my thoughts from Sunday worship to this special national tradition.
Memories began to float into my consciousness, and before I knew it, I was back in my childhood on the farm outside Northfield. Every Independence Day of my childhood began this way: after crawling out of bed, and before chores or breakfast, my family would gather on the front stoop—still in our pajamas and robes--and sing “The Star Spangled Banner” while one of my brothers affixed the American flag in the pole bracket next to the front door. As the echo of our five voices singing the National Anthem disappeared over the dewy morning pastures and fields, we would stand for a minute looking at the flag, and then head inside to start our day.
Each Independence Day I may spend time thinking about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and of those Colonists—including my ancestor Josiah Lathrop—who risked their lives fighting in the Revolutionary War so that Americans could live and prosper independent of British rule. But I also take time to revel in those pleasant memories of my childhood, when my family would begin each Independence Day with a simple yet poignant tribute to the flag and to our country!
My Grandma Marie, who grew up in Berlin, Germany, used to tell a joke to my brothers and me:
“There once was a boy who was sent to the market by his mother to buy some cheese and crackers for dinner. On the way home from the market, the boy could not resist jumping into a puddle on the street. While doing this, he accidentally dropped the bag of groceries in the puddle. The boy exclaimed, “Jesus Christ and God Almighty!” Just then, the village priest walked by. He stopped, and sternly asked the boy to repeat what he had just said. The boy answered, “Um, Father, cheese and crackers got all messy!”
What a groaner! But whenever Grandma told my brothers and me this joke (for the hundredth time), we would wait for the best part: Grandma throwing her head back, and breaking into her distinctive musical chortle as if it were the first time telling it!
Swearing was a big no-no in my family. The worst thing Mom ever said was, “Hell’s bells!” Unfortunately, profanity has become part of our 21st century American culture—part of our everyday vocabulary. I must admit that I have been known to ‘turn the air blue’ when I am really mad about something. At least my intention is to not have swearing become too easy.
In his study on the Ten Commandments, author and pastor Adam Hamilton offers a couple ways of understanding of the Third Commandment that go beyond refraining from swearing. The first concerns oath-keeping; when we promise to do something and want the other person to know how serious we are about it, we might say, ‘I swear to God. . . ‘. If you have ever been on jury duty or sat in a courtroom during a trial, you might hear the witness swear to God that their testimony is true and accurate. Hamilton emphasizes the importance of keeping our promises, especially when we swear to God!
The second way of understanding the Third Commandment, which as a Christian, makes me want to ‘turn the air blue’ (swear), is when someone in public makes a statement that they swear came from God, himself. A personal example is while in seminary, some friends and I came upon a group of members of the Westboro Baptist Church on a street corner across from Northwestern University, picketing with signs that claimed God hates Jews and gays. Even their children were holding these hate-filled signs. The way I see it, this group was breaking the Third Commandment by taking the name of God in vain.
Take some time this week thinking about the meaning of the Third Commandment, and if you have ever broken it. If you have--as I have--remember that God forgave you, and will always forgive you when you break the Third, or any of the Ten Commandments!