“You shall not kill” Exodus 20:13. The core of this commandment is in the idea that life is sacred because from the beginning it involves the creative act of God. As a result it is always profoundly related to God. No human being can claim to him or herself the “right” to destroy an innocent human being under any circumstances. God alone is the Lord of life from its very beginning to its very end.
We see the first incident of such a thing in the story of Cain killing Abel. God’s question to Cain is significant: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Genesis 4:10-11). This is a sin against God’s love and generosity, indeed against the very Author of Life. It is the product of an arrogance so profound that it illegitimately claims the role of God to itself. This prohibition against killing has dimensions far wider than just murder. Anything that destroys life is covered under this commandment.
Jesus, as always, gives us deeper understanding of this commandment. In his Sermon on the Mount in Chapters 5-7 of Matthew’s Gospel, he gives us many more things to think about in terms of this commandment. For example: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgement.” (verses 21-22) And, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (verses 43-44). This is how we are to turn our legitimate anger into a profoundly creative, forgiving force, rather than a force of destruction.
The commandment given in its negative formulation is serious enough to consider. Yet because of sin, we are prone to let our angers, our jealousies, and our resentments overwhelm us at times. It is not just physical death that can be harmed by our actions, or inactions. We can do damage to others by our words as well. Most of us are not guilty of taking the life of another human being, but most of us are guilty by our participation in, or our indifference toward things that do affect the very lives of countless human beings near and far. This commandment calls us to honor and to respect life in all of its forms, but most importantly that of our fellow human beings who have been made personally and intimately by God, in his own image and likeness.
Help us, Lord, to honor life in all ways, by our actions and by our words. Help us to have the courage to defend life and to promote its well-being. You are the Author of all life. In you we live and move and have our very being. Let us be filled with a wonder for your great gift of life. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!
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