One Declares that Human Life is Sacred
It is a paradox that is lost on modern man. Courts that take human life do so on the basis of human life being sacred. Though not explicitly stated, or in our day remembered, Genesis 9:6 is still in play. The Lord declared to Noah, ""Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed;
for in the image of God has God made man." The enlightened individual wants to say, "O we take human life to deter crime or to help rehabilitate someone else." Think about that. What more immoral thing could be done than to inflict death on me to deter or rehabilitate someone else unless I deserved to die (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 94)? I deserve to die because I usurped God's place. I took a life that He gave for personal reasons.
So if some courts still protect human life as sacred why do we need to be told all human life is sacred? Ask brown pelicans or bald eagles. The eggs or the unborn of these species are granted the same legal status as the adults. You break a bald eagle or brown pelican egg and it's the same as killing an adult. The sanctity of our national bird and of an endangered species is granted to their unborn. Not so with human life. Human life in the womb or embryonic stages can be destroyed and that's not murder. Modern man doesn't know human life at all its stages is sacred.
At even its end stages, human life is sacred. God needs to declare this too. As with the unborn so with the terminally ill, the courthouse is of little help. States have enacted laws that sound dignified, even life affirming but what they amount to is a legal right to treat the lives of people who you know or doctors know are going to die as less than sacred. These you can treat like animals. You can put them down, to sleep, out of their misery. If man concludes he has no more use for this life, then man can take it. With animals whom God put under man that is true, but not for sacred human life.
If you don't think we need to be told all human life is sacred ask the Eskimos or any culture that leave their old ones to die. We baby boomers outnumber the WW II generation 3 to 1. That's 3 times as many doctors' appointments; 3 times as many walkers, scooters, power chairs; 3 times as many people on Social Security; 3 times as many nursing homes. Whose going to think a life that can't contribute to society for decades or can only decline in quality is sacred? Only a person informed by God.
Yet what do we do with God's declaration that all human life is sacred and protected from murder? We excuse our murdering. We excuse hurting or harming our neighbor in his body; we excuse not helping and supporting him in every physical need; we excuse calling him fool or hating him in our heart. Luther speaks of this excusing. People try to excuse their anger saying, "'I would really not be angry if only people would leave me alone.' Of course, my dear fellow, the evil spirit himself would be meek if he had his own way. Discord and insult come your way to show you how much anger and wickedness is really in you" (LW, 44, 101).
Sound familiar? If that guy hadn't cut me off I wouldn't have cursed him out. If my wife just wouldn't push my buttons, I wouldn't loose my temper. Don't you see this is what the child abuser, the wife abuser, or any abuser tells himself? The person I'm abusing made me do it. No, your anger, your raging, your hateful words show how much wickedness, sinfulness and fallenness is in you. Rejoice, therefore, when bad traffic, bad manners, or a bad person brings your anger flooding to the surface for than you can confess it, be forgiven for it, and be free of it.
You know those days when you're angry at the world? You feel justified in thinking everyone is a fool; everyone is making you angry; it's not your fault it's theirs. On those days the only sacred life in the world is yours. Not your spouse's, not your kids', not your parents', not siblings', not friends', or coworkers' lives are sacred on those days: only yours. Yet we think our lustful days or greedy days are worse than these. We dismiss angry days as "bad," as being "out of sorts" not sinful. But nowhere is Satan's temptation "you will be like God" so clearly seen as when we presume to dispose of other people's lives. When we believe we have the right to be angry at the world, we're acting like God, and He allows no pretenders to His throne.
Look at the Passion Reading. There you see no pretender to the throne but the rightful heir. But look; He's treated as you deserve to be. His friends refused to help and support Him in every physical need, and He asked them to. He tells them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." And then He tells them, "Stay here and keep watch with Me." They don't; His most trusted friends sleep rather than watch with Him. Even after Jesus confronts them a second time, they sleep on.
However, no lightening bolt falls from heaven to strike these gross ignorers of the 5th Commandment. No, they're allowed to sleep blissfully on. The anguish and grief pile up on Jesus. Think of all the people you've ever hated, mistreated, scorned, hurt, wished they were dead, or even killed in malice. All those sins have to be answered for. Their foul stench, their utter putridness has to be dealt with. God put them all in one single cup of wrath, judgment, pain, suffering, and hell, and then He handed it to His Son and said, "Drink this." The Son turns away; the Son asks for it to be taken away, but if He won't drink it you will; if He doesn't drink it you do, so the Father wills for Him to and He does.
See the truly astounding nature of this "transaction" between Father and Son. The Son whom the Father wills to drink the cup that would choke us all through eternity is the Jesus who looked out for the physical need of His disciples to have sleep. Jesus allows them to sleep and doesn't ruin His good work with sarcasm like I do. I would say, "Go ahead and sleep; I'll wrestle with sin, death, and the Devil alone. Go ahead and sleep; I can sweat blood without your help." No, nothing like that from Jesus.
Jesus was innocent of any sin against the 5th Commandment. He wasn't the one who hurt or harmed the high priest's servant by chopping his ear off. But He was the one who helped and supported him in every physical need by healing that ear. But that didn't stop the insanity or even slow it down. Surely some of them besides Malchus, even though it was dark, knew a tremendous miracle had taken place, yet onward they came with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus as if He were a common thief or a guilty murderer.
And what of the guilty murderers? What of the apostles who fought like cats and dogs in the upper room over who was the greatest? What of the apostles James and John who wanted to call fire down from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village? What of the angry little man Peter who cut the servant's ear off? What of you and me? If it were in my power to kill with thoughts, many of you would be dead right now. What of us who really do think sometimes that ours is the only sacred life? "Let these go," says Jesus.
From our text, I'm not certain that the mob let the disciples go willingly since we're told they tried to seize one of them. I am certain, however, that God the Father did let us go. I, who under the Law have forfeited eyes, teeth, hands, feet, and deserve wounds and bruises because I have hurt and harmed others in a hundred different ways on thousand different occasions, have never paid for one of my sins. Only Jesus was given the cup of God's wrath; only Jesus was presented with the debt of my sins; only Jesus was led to the cross. As for me, I left the jail cell right behind the murderer Barabbas.
Ready to the turn the corner? Ready to see that the Law is as Paul said "good." Can we ever turn this corner? Ivan says to Alyosha his brother, a monk in The Brothers Karamazov [kara-maz-off], "I could never understand how one can love one's neighbors. It just one's neighbors, to my mind, that one can't love, though one might love at a distancefor anyone to love a man he must be hidden for as soon as he shows his face, love is gone" (610). Isn't that the truth? Well instead of seeing the face of your neighbor see the face of your Savior. Sing to yourself, "He's not heavy; he's my Savior." See your neighbor's, your spouse's, your coworker's faces crowned with thorns. See the hand you reach to help as having been pierced.
Learn from Jean Valjean that great mercy begets mercy. After decades as a galley slave for stealing a loaf of bread, Valjean is freed. The first night of freedom a bishop takes him in. He steels from him. He flees, but is caught red-handed. The police officer takes him back to the bishop and tells him that he caught Valjean with his sliver candlestick. The bishop without missing a beat says, "O I'm glad you found him; he forgot to get the other one. The pair were a gift." That act of undeserved mercy completely changes Valjean's life. Each one of us have been mercied far more. We too were caught red-handed. But we weren't let go scot free. No, God's only Son paid the price of our mercy.
Finally, to turn the corner, think like a dog. We treat dogs like people, and they become such to us. You treat a dog even a pet of many years like a stray, like a bad dog, and you'll be surprised how quickly the dog becomes one. God treats us like His only beloved Son ought to have been. He catches our tears in a bottle rather than letting them fall to the ground; rather than the cup of wrath He gives us the cup of Blessing, of Salvation in Holy Communion. Constantly, the Father assures us that we are His dear children and He is our dear Father. He in effect says, "You're a good dog; a great dog; the best dog." And we become what He declares us to be even as our dogs do.
By the 5th Commandment God declares that all human life is sacred, but He shows us this, He teaches us this, He converts us to this truth by every crucifix we see. Because there we see that God took on not angelic life, not animal life, but human life to redeem it. The flags of nations are sacred because of the blood spilled defending them; how much more sacred are the people of all nations that God redeemed by spilling the blood of His Son on that cross? Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lenten Vespers II (20120229); 5th Commandment; Passion Reading 2