I was really disappointed to find out that the Ten Commandments are not multiple choice, even though many folk live as though they are. Some of them are harder to keep than others, especially when we get to that one about coveting. But then I look at others and I say to myself, “so far, so good – I haven’t killed anyone yet.” The Hebrew word that many translate as “kill,” actually does mean “murder.” Either way, I am in the clear on this one. I have not murdered, killed or even maimed anyone; that is, so long as we do not include video games.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had begun to look at the law of God in this way. They believed and taught that if one could simply refrain from doing the things prohibited by the commandments, one could be righteous. However, you can refrain from killing, committing adultery, stealing, and disrespecting your parents – but still be a class A jerk to everyone. You can keep the Sabbath day, worship no other god and keep from taking the name of the Lord in vain – and still be a horrible example of what a Christian should be. In fact, you can keep the law of God without loving God and without loving anyone.
Into our world comes Jesus, who expands the meaning of the law to include our intent and feelings. It is not enough to not murder someone; I am guilty of sin if I am harboring anger against a brother or sister. In fact, Jesus says that we should not try to make peace and be reconciled to God if you have not been reconciled with a brother or sister. Now this is getting much too personal. God isn’t just concerned with the way I act toward him and others; he is actually concerned with what kind of person I really am. God is concerned about the way our relationships really are.
Actually, Jesus does not expand the meanings of any of the laws of God. He seeks to bring us back to what God intended when the law was given. The law was not given as a check list for living the righteous life. God’s law was given to reveal God’s nature and desire for humanity. As we will find later in the Gospel of Matthew, when Jesus was asked which of the commandments is the greatest, he answered with a summation that is based on love. A check list could only change one from the outside in. Love changes one from the inside out. “Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40)
The heart of God’s law is love, and when love is injured it always seeks reconciliation. Sustained anger will always prevent the reconciliation that God desires among his children. From time to time, we are all going to get angry with one another. In almost all relationships, there will be times of stress, strain and anger. These times must be quickly followed by forgiveness and reconciliation, for that is what love requires.
Most of us in our disputes with our brothers and sisters will refrain from small arms fire, and we will not murder. But Jesus calls us beyond simply following rules. He calls us to actually love one another, and in so doing to be reconciled.