The Rev. Paul J Cain
Matthew 5: (17-19) 20-26
Murder and Reconciliation
Sixth Sunday after Trinity, 27 July 2014
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, WY
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In Matthew 5:17ff, the Gospel for The Sixth Sunday after Trinity, Jesus is quite clear about the Law: 17[Jesus said:] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Does your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees? No? Then the Law of God says that you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. In Christ Jesus does your righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees? Yes. Absolutely, yes, thanks be to God! The Gospel of God says that you will enter the kingdom of heaven. Indeed, you have entered the kingdom of heaven already in Holy Baptism and have passed from death to life. That is what Jesus accomplishes in you by His Word, God the Holy Spirit, and the forgiveness of sins. You are reconciled to God in Christ!
One of the ways we sin against God and our neighbor is by murder. I don’t say this flippantly. I speak as one with a little experience in the matter. Two members of the first congregation I served were murdered, both before I arrived to serve them as pastor, yet the consequences lingered for decades. One had occurred about a year before I was Called to serve them.
I also speak as one with more personal experience. The novels of C. J. Box and Craig Johnson have far more murders than Sheridan and Johnson County actually have. The Longmire TV show apparently needs to have one almost every week. You and I are guilty of sin against the Fifth Commandment when we call someone a name, when we hate, when we know that somebody has something against us and we don’t care enough to deal with the situation. No, we may not be taking another’s life, yet we murder in the eyes of the Lord and His Fifth Commandment when we fail to do the good we should. The Small Catechism says it well:
The Fifth Commandment
[God's Gift of Life]
You shall not murder.
What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.
Jesus says it this way:
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother2 will be liable to judgment; whoever insults3 his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell4 of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.5
Who is responsible for beginning a process of reconciliation? You are. I am. To put it briefly, the first person who recognizes that there is a need for reconciliation.
If you…remember that your brother has something against you…go. First be reconciled to your brother…
Matthew 18 tells the other side of the story, when you have been sinned against: 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
If you realize you have sinned, go and be reconciled. If someone has sinned against you, seek reconciliation. The goal is always forgiveness and reconciliation.
Forgiveness and reconciliation is always the goal of Excommunication, when church discipline needs to be exercised. The goal is never “cleaning the rolls.” The goal is repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
There is another issue with regard to the Fifth Commandment that we need to address. When many of us were originally taught the Fifth Commandment, it wasn’t as “You shall not murder,” right? I learned the Fifth Commandment in King James English as “Thou shalt not kill.” There is a difference between murder and killing. Murder is a kind of killing, but killing is not a kind of murder. Abortion, euthanasia, and suicide are all murder. Self-defense, serving as a soldier in a just war, and capital punishment are killing, but not murder. I first heard the updated translation of this Commandment while preparing to go to seminary. It bothered me. I had to research it for myself.
I could understand that Holy Spirit meant Holy Ghost. I knew that the Holy Ghost spake by the prophets and the Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets without any change in meaning, much like the living and the dead means the same as the quick and the dead. I knew that there was a difference in meaning between “kill” and “murder.”
It took study of both the German of Luther’s Catechism and the Hebrew of the Ten Commandments to discover that “murder” is the more accurate translation. Luther translates the Hebrew word as “kill.” So does the King James Authorized Version. Yet, “Murder” is the original word in Hebrew. Both the Germans and the English did their best to carry forward the connotations of the Hebrew, but it took a long time for the English-speaking church to get the translation to be the most accurate.
Why does this matter? Occasionally, I’m summoned to the VA Hospital. When the veterans make a request to talk to an LCMS pastor, there’s usually another topic that they present first. But most want to talk about this issue. They’ve been carrying around the guilt of killing a man in the course of battle and war and are convinced that they have broken the Fifth Commandment. Shooting back at the enemy shooting at you is self-defense of you and your buddies , much like self-defense of your home as castle. Killing? Yes. Murder? No. Some soldiers cross the line and engage in looting, pillaging, etc. of local populations. That becomes murder.
Imagine the relief of someone who carried around the grief of killing enemy soldiers to discover that such self-defense in war is not murder. All loss of life is tragic. Our goal is the preservation of life in this world and preaching the message of the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting in Jesus. One of my great joys as a pastor is pronouncing absolution, the forgiveness of sins. It is similarly joyful to pronounce the truth about what this commandment says, correcting decades and centuries-long of confused catechesis. “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”
Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and did so perfectly on our behalf.
Jesus gives clear teaching on the Fifth Commandment. We serve our neighbor by clearly sharing such teaching.
In Christ Jesus, you have forgiveness, reconciliation, life, and salvation. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.