The Dummies Guide to Reality No Thoughtless Murder
Even a dummy knows that taking a human life from womb to before tomb for personal reasons is murder, but a dummy like me thinks only what I think about beforehand is murder. No, there is such a thing as thoughtless murder, and it's every bit as deadly to the doer as thoughtful murder is.
Up until the late 20th century we translated the 5th Commandment as Luther did: "You shall not kill." Only one time and that early in his career does he translate "You shall not commit homicide" (Peters, Ten Commandments, 215, fn. 3). Luther uniformly used the broader term "killing" to avoid the sinful misunderstanding that only intentional homicide was forbidden (Ibid. 215).
We switched in the 80s partly because at rallies to stop the death the penalty people held signs saying, "Thou shalt not kill." We correctly pointed out that the government by God's authority has the power to take human life, that the taking of a life by a court in the name of justice or by a cop or solider to protect other human life is not murder. But by translating murder' instead of kill' we didn't mean that government, police, and military have no boundaries in taking human life. And we didn't mean that the only taking of human life forbidden by this commandment is premeditated or done by the hands. We know this from Jesus' preaching against the Jewish leaders who said that only the physical taking of human life was murder.
The other reason we switched from "kill" to "murder" is because the animal rights movement and evolution had overrun our kids. Animals are people too; animals have rights. People are only the highest animals on the evolutionary ladder now. But if man is different than animals only in degree and not in kind there is no logical reason to treat him differently than the animals (Idols for Destruction, 288). That raises the bar for how animals are treated but lowers it for how men are. To maintain and emphasize that the difference is one of kind not degree we teach that animals can be killed for food, clothing, for the benefit of men and that isn't wrong let alone murder.
So we had good reasons to switch from Luther's "kill" to "murder." We did it to protect dummies like me from thinking the state didn't have the power of deadly force and from feeling guilty for liking to eat cows, chickens, pigs, and deer. However, we may have overcorrected, leaving a chasm of sorts for dummies like me to fall into. A chasm Roberta Flack sang about.
Well, not really. "Killing me Softly" was her 1973 song about a singer-song writer who was so intense with his gifts she felt she was being killed softly by his songs. We don't kill softy with song, but we can do it with words and even thoughts, and we don't feel all that bad about it. This is what Luther was trying to protect against. The misunderstanding of our sinful nature that only intentional homicide by hand was forbidden (Peters, 215). No, as we confess in the Large Catechism you can kill not only by the hand but by heart, mouth, signs, gestures, help, or counsel (I, 182).
Luther stayed close to Scripture. He outlined 4 types of killing based on Matthew 5 only one of them intentional. The rest are so soft that a dummy would pass them by unnoticed. Killing people by words such as saying, "You fool" is one. Killing people by signs or gestures is another. Luther used Jesus' example in Matthew 5 of saying "Racca" which Luther said was an inarticulate guttural sound expressing anger and contempt, and finally by heart was the last way of killing softly (Peters, 227).
Yes, according to Luther based on Jesus' words in Matthew 5 the sentence of damnation hangs over the very first step of murder. Whoever is only angry at his brother in his heart is already under God's damnation (Ibid.). Who among us isn't that? Who among us doesn't think the only anger we have toward others at least the majority of it is righteous indignation? Who among us really thinks the everyday anger we allow to mellow in our heart is really guilty of hellfire as Jesus says in Matthew 5? Not this dummy.
Under this criteria I've killed so many people thoughtlessly and softly that I can't count them, but the body count grows if I consider the last clause of the Explanation: help and support our neighbor in every physical need. Who killed Jesus? The Jews and Romans working in consort, we say. No His most prominent disciples also did: the disciple Jesus loved and the disciple who said he would die before deserting Him. In Gethsemane they certainly didn't help and support Jesus. You and I killed Jesus too if what Jesus says in Matthew 25 is true: what we didn't do for the least brother in Christ we didn't do for Him.
Murder is not just of the hand it's of the head, the heart, the soul. Luther following the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount drives this Commandment ever deeper till is exposes all the ways we daily kill others softly. He keeps drilling and drilling like a dentist oblivious to your pain till he exposes the root and source of this murdering. And it's you. It's me, myself, and I. Luther said, "Thou art not sweet in heart, thine heart is full of hatred, full of murder and blood, and so they hands and eyes would also gladly be full of the same; nor can't thou prevent it, anymore than thou canst prevent fire from burning, for its nature is to burn" (Luther Sermons, 5th Commandment).
Don't believe that? This dummy doesn't. Our Large Catechism has a test. Don't judge the state of your heart by how you treat others who do good to you. If you do good to those who do good to you that according to Matthew 5 only rises to the level of paganism. If you do evil to those who do good to you that isn't human at all but devilish. The test is how you treat those who do evil to you (LC, I, 188). Like Belshazzar this dummy has been weighed in the scales of divine justice and found wanting. More than that I've been found guilty. Guilty of murder. Stephen King says that the man who commits murder murders his own soul even if he doesn't believe he has one (1922).
There's only one way out, one relief whether for dummies or brainiacs. It's James 5:6. "You have condemned and murdered the Righteous One; He does not resist you." When Jesus comes back to His sleeping disciples and asks the forlorn question, "Could you men not keep watch with Me for one hour?" He is saying, "You're killing Me." Softly sure, but killing none the less. As we are, with every hateful, vengeful, hardhearted deed, word, or thought we have toward another and with every failure to help and support.
But tonight is not a night to strike with the sword at us enemies of the Lord. He tells Peter, "No more of that." Tonight is not the night to strike dummies like me who have broken the 5th Commandment more ways than I could ever remember. Tonight's the night to strike the Shepherd. That's what Jesus says. Tonight the bill comes due for us sheep who have wandered into, deliberately went into, or fallen into murder whether by heart, head, or hand. Tonight the bill comes due for sheep like us who love to wander, to murder, to kill softly.
Here we see what even killing softly deserves. The perfect Man who is God has His soul overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. What a pious thought it is to say Jesus died on the cross of broken heart. Aww! What a fearful thought to think that Jesus is about to die from a sorrowful heart. And what is the cause of this deep sorrow? He sees the cup of God's wrath against your sins, my sins, everyone's sins coming ever closer to His lips for Him to drink. And though He desperately wants to save you from your sins, He doesn't want to have to drink that cup. But drink it He does all the way till there is not one drop of God's wrath left against your sins. Even if you have killed a hundred men a day for the last 10 years, there is no wrath of God left even for you.
Yes, your sins, my sins, and the sins of countless dummies have been paid for by the suffering and death of this Righteous One, and He does not resist us. The way out of your guilt, your shame, your pain for a 1,001 murders or just one or just one hateful thought is not your feeling more guilty, more shame, more pain. You do that to yourself and you're saying: The guilt, shame, and pain Jesus endured in Gethsemane - guilt, shame, and pain so great that it pressed great drops of blood from His holy head, so great that God sent an angel from heaven to strengthen Jesus so He could bear it was not enough to satisfy God's wrath. There are still some drops of God's wrath left in the cup for you to drink.
In essence when a dummy like me sees God's cup of wrath with even one drop against my sins left in it, I'm going the way of Judas. I'm refusing to believe that Jesus really suffered and died to pay for all my sins. And Jesus wants Judas to believe that even in Gethsemane. How do I know that? Because Jesus called Judas friend. Jesus is not a politician; Jesus is not a flatterer; Jesus is not a hypocrite. In the very midst of betraying Him, Jesus tells Judas - murdering, hateful, grudge-filled Judas you're still my friend.
Jesus says the same to you. How do I know that? Because Paul says in Romans 5 that while we were still enemies, still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. Jesus called Judas friend' to let him know there was a way back from his horrible betrayal of Him into the hands of murderers. Paul tells us Jesus died for ungodly, sinful, enemies of God to let us know there is a way back from thoughtful and thoughtless murder.
No ones sins are so ugly, so wrong, so many that Jesus wasn't able to drink down all of God's wrath against them. Only a dummy stays angry with themselves once God's anger has been satisfied. No ones sins are so heavy, so thick, so smelly, so awful that they were not paid for by Jesus. Only a dummy tries to pay a bill twice. Finally, what you pay for is yours to do with what you want. Jesus sent your sins away from you. He wants you and your conscience, friend, to dummy up already about them. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent Midweek II (20160217); 5th Commandment, Passion Reading 2