2016/03/06 Laetare – Manuscript
In Matthew 22, Jesus’ opponents came to Him to try and trap Him with a trick question. They asked Him, “Teacher, what is the great commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” When speaking about the Law, the Ten Commandments, Jesus divided them into two categories: our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. We call them the first and second tables of the Law. The first table contains the first three Commandments, which teach us to love and honor God above all things. The second table of the Law are the commandments which direct our relationships with the people around us, the Fourth through Tenth.
We last looked at the Fourth Commandment, where God teaches us to love and honor Him, by loving, cherishing, and obeying those whom He gives us to act in His stead. The Fourth Commandment speaks primarily about the relationship between parents and children, but also about other offices that God has instituted for our good, such as the government and the pastoral office. It teaches us about the relationship we have with the neighbors who are above us in station. Today we’ll look at the Fifth through Seventh Commandments. They direct and protect our relationships with the neighbors around us, beside us (as in marriage), and across from us. In these commandments we learn how God desires us to behave toward our neighbor in Christ: to do no harm, but instead, to do good.
We’ll continue using the Commandments as printed in the front of our hymnal. The Fifth Commandment is “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.” In this commandment we move from how we relate to those whom God has placed over us to those whom He places around us in our daily lives. In short, we are forbidden in this commandment to do our neighbor harm. But first, we’re using the word “neighbor” a lot today; who is our neighbor? This is the question that prompted the parable of the Good Samaritan. The answer: everyone is our neighbor. Therefore, we should do no harm to anyone. The government is exempted from this commandment when it lawfully punishes evil and fights just wars.
Now, what does it mean to harm our neighbor? This commandment directs us first to avoid physical harm. This means that as individuals, we do not have the authority from God to take the life of another person. The straight-up meaning of the commandment we understand: Don’t murder. But, there are other areas of life that this commandment speaks to, such as abortion and euthanasia. Both of these involve taking the lives of those around us who are the most vulnerable, who themselves are individual creations of God and are loved by Him. All life is to be cherished and preserved as a gift from God.
The Hebrew word for murder also includes the understanding that sometimes our neglect can lead to the physical harm and death of others. Such as, if you see someone in distress on the side of the road, and you just keep driving while they die, that would be breaking the Fifth Commandment. Jesus also says that if you are harboring anger and hatred against your brother, or if there is animosity in your heart toward another person, that is also sin. Therefore, the Fifth Commandment teaches us to do no harm to our neighbor, but instead to do good. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the prisoner, sharing with all the love that we first received from Christ.
The love that we receive from Christ, the love that He has for the Church – His Bride – is also the model of love between a man and his wife. The Fifth Commandment teaches us about our relationship with those around us. The Sixth Commandment teaches us about the most intimate relationship many of us have: the neighbor beside us, who is in fact one flesh with us in marriage – our spouse. The Sixth Commandment says, “You shall not commit adultery. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other.” In this Commandment God protects and honors the estate of marriage by teaching us to live chaste lives in what we say and do.
The estate of marriage is a holy relationship, established by God in the Garden of Eden, where He brought Adam and Eve together to live as husband and wife. It is a most blessed estate, the highest even, for it is the primary way that God raises up faithful people for Himself. God teaches in this Commandment that we are to respect and value this gift by loving and honoring our spouses. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. Wives, love and respect your husbands as the Church does Christ.
In this Commandment we also recognize that sexuality is gift from God. It is not something to be shunned or hidden, for it is a good creation of God. But, like many other good things in creation, it is often abused. God created marriage to be the place where His gift of sexuality is exercised and urges are controlled. It is only by a special gift of God that some, like St. Paul, are able to live sexually pure and decent lives apart from marriage. The rest of us, though, should aspire to the blessed estate of marriage. St. Paul writes, “Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband…it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” We should also pray for those who are married, that Jesus would help them to love and honor each other, and for those who desire to be married but are not yet.
From the Fifth Commandment, where we learn how to relate to the neighbor around us, we moved to the Sixth Commandment, where we learn how to relate to our neighbor beside us: our spouse. In the Seventh Commandment we learn how we relate to the neighbor around and across from us. The Seventh Commandment says, “You shall not steal. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not take our neighbor’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way, but help him to improve and protect his possessions and income.”
In short: don’t steal. Don’t be a thief or a robber. I think we’ve probably got a handle on that. Many of us learned very early on not to steal when we got spanked by our parents for stealing from the cookie jar, or a toy from our sibling. But, one area that blows a hole in the side of our pride is this: What about those times at work where you’re just being idle? We all have those days where time comes to a standstill and we need something, anything, to pass the time – so long as it’s not actually working. Sometimes we get into the bad habit of doing things on the clock that are more properly done in free time. That’s the Seventh Commandment. We should not steal in any way, whether out in the open, by dishonesty, or by idleness. How often we would so much rather take an open thief than a hidden one, because we can catch and punish them. But, Luther once said, if we tried to gather up all the thieves in the world, both open and hidden, there wouldn’t be anyone left to do the punishing.
I’m going to read some Words of Christ spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary…The Lord God opened my ear, and I was not rebellious…I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.” Scripture shows us that Jesus did no harm to anyone; He loved and served every neighbor in need, having compassion on them like sheep without a shepherd. In the book of Hosea, it says His heart recoiled in His chest, that though His bride Israel repeatedly stepped out on their marriage, He would redeem her. He would heal His people and take away their iniquity, their infidelity toward Him and each other.
And, though, we like sheep have gone astray – doing harm to our neighbor in action and thought, being unfaithful to God and each other, and being thieves in deed and word – The Lord has given us this word: “Behold, I have engraved you on the palm of my hands.” For your sins, for mine, and for the whole world, Christ was crucified. And in those blessed wounds you are inseparably joined to Him, and He to you. Where He is – so shall you be. And this, not because of our faithfulness to the Ten Commandments, not because we have kept the Law and earned our salvation, but because of these words: “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you…you will not be forgotten by me. I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Amen.