By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
Thou Shalt Not Steal. Thou Shalt Not Kill. I am not, nor have I ever been, a King James Version kind of guy, but for some reason, when it comes to the Ten Commandments, I not only revert to the King James, but I also mentally capitalize every word of the sentence. However, that last commandment feels like it needs the gravitas of the King’s English.
That emphasis helps to underline it in my head and helps me remember to keep that one pretty high up on my list. Because it’s the easiest commandment to keep if we take it literally, but the hardest one to keep if we take it seriously.
Not directly killing someone is super easy. In fact, it’s so easy that most people have done it without ever really trying. When seen literally, we can just sit back and not kill all we want. But the problem is that these commandments aren’t just literal. Instead, we know that these laws are there for us to use as guideposts in how to live. They are starting points for how we can be our best selves, our selves that reflect most the image of God.
In Matthew 5, Jesus says, “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
Our hatred kills our siblings. Love your enemies. That’s what Jesus told us to do. By hating our enemies, we are participating in a zero-sum culture of death. We are feeding into a narrative of win at all cost, a culture of death that pervades our society. I disagree with Jesus when he equates anger with murder, but I appreciate what he’s getting at here. Anger isn’t the problem--it’s how the anger expresses itself and it’s the effect the anger has on our hearts. If we allow our anger to guide us towards hatred, then we become apathetic towards the commandment not to kill and become apathetic about the fate of our neighbor.
But it’s not just hatred that kills. Our apathy kills as well. In 2020 our country had 20 executions. What do we make of that commandment? How have we tried to stop these killings? And what’s more, these executions are ostensibly done on our behalf, using our taxes. Not only does our apathy lead to these deaths, but it leads to our complicity in them. The same is true of the wars of choice that we’ve fought over the last two decades. The same is true of those who die in refugee camps waiting to come to safety. The same is true of people who die of preventable illness who can’t afford health care. The same is true of…
If we want to truly obey this commandment, then we need to radically refocus ourselves on what it means not to kill. Are we ready to let go of our hatred? Are we ready to wake up to the killing that is done in our name? Are we ready to let go of our apathy? Are we ready to atone for our complicity?
I hope so. I hope so much that we can keep this commandment. I hope and pray, knowing that our God will show us the way and walk with us as we try.