(NB: for the sake of full inclusion, I have added female gendered language to the male pronouns referring to people wherever present in Martin Luther’s text.)
“Thou shalt not kill.” Luther’s Shorter Catechism asks: What does this mean?
It seems obvious doesn’t it? I mean, we are not supposed to take someone else’s life. Right? Luther’s shorter answer is this:
We should fear and love God that we may not hurt nor harm our neighbor in his/her body, but help and befriend him/her in every need and danger of life and body.
What “Thou shalt not kill” means may seem obvious in the wake of tragedies like last Friday’s shooting in a movie theater but in the aftermath, examining my own response and participation in commentary via the Twitterverse, I’m convicted by Luther’s deeper reading in the Large Catechism.
Luther reminds me of “the entire sum of what it means not to kill.”
- that we harm no one, neither by our own hand nor by deed
- that we do not use our tongue to instigate nor counsel anybody else to do any of that
- that we neither use nor give our assent to any kind of means or methods which would cause anyone to be injured.
- And finally, that our hearts not be ill disposed toward anyone, and not wish him/her ill out of anger and hatred, especially those who wish you evil or inflict such upon you.
These too may seem fairly obvious and clear. Here’s where, for me, the Thou-shalt-not-kill rubber meets the road to non-violence as a spiritual discipline.
Luther continues (and I paraphrase):
Under this commandment not only are we guilty if we do evil to our neighbors, but also when can do good, prevent, resist evil, defend and save our neighbor, so that no bodily harm or hurt can happen, yet we DO NOT DO IT… for we have withheld OUR love from him and deprived him of the benefit whereby his life would have been saved. It is just as if I saw some one navigating and laboring in deep water [and struggling against adverse winds] or one fallen into fire, and could extend to her the hand to pull her out and save her, and yet refused to do it. What else would I appear, even in the eyes of the world, than as a murderer and a criminal?
In his sermon on the Fifth Commandment, he sums all this up in this way:
Mark the wording closely when [God] says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Who is “thou?” Your hand? No. Your tongue? No; but thou, thou and all that is in thee and with thee; thine hand, heart, and thoughts shall not kill.
As much as I might want to condemn a murderer, castigate those who sell guns, pour buckets of blame on the NRA and Tea Partiers, or find some other scapegoat of my choosing, as long as I’m not willing to examine my speech, my barbed expressions of self-righteousness can be just as deadly. To be sure, though I may not cause anyone’s biological heart to stop beating, what I say can take someone’s spirit from them just as easily as those semi-automatic weapons took life in that theater. And as for the shooter? Luther makes me wonder who is befriending him in time of need?