I've been discussing The Fifth Commandment, "You shall not kill." In the last installment, I indicated that one way we violate this commandment is in tearing others down. Conversely, we become life-givers when we build up and encourage others. (For a fuller discussion of the importance of encouragement, click here for links to my series, The Power of Encouragement.)
Obeying the Fifth Commandment will also mean proactively helping others.
Jesus drove this point home in one of his most famous parables, one in which a Samaritan emerges as exemplary. Jesus' fellow Judeans usually hated Samaritans:
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?"We're to work for the life and well-being of our neighbor. Unlike the scholar who sought to limit the meaning of the term, neighbor, we're to see even the well-being of people in places remote to us as of utmost importance.
He answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?"
He said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."
"Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you'll live."
Looking for a loophole, he asked, "And just how would you define 'neighbor'?"
Jesus answered by telling a story. "There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
"A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I'll pay you on my way back.'
"What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?"
"The one who treated him kindly," the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, "Go and do the same." (Luke 10:25-38)
There's a lot more to the commandments than "you shall nots." For every proscribed behavior, there is also a prescribed behavior. When we see others' lives and well-being threatened, we're to be life-promoters. This is why many German Christians who lived through the Nazi era expressed such remorse and repugnance for their own indifference in the face of the rising terrors of the Third Reich once the Second World War had ended. Conversely, it's why many Christians have joined scores of other people in seeking to point the world's attention to the genocide being perpeptrated by the Sudanese government and its allies in Darfur.
A story is told about the Russian novelist Vladimir Nabakov. It may or may not be true. According to the story, one day Nabakov went on a butterfly-hunting expedition and spied a representative of a rare specie. In the chase, he happened across an injured person. When he told someone about the incident later, he was asked, "What happened to the person?" A quizzical look crossed the novelist's face and he said that he had no idea: "I had to find the butterfly."
If that story repels you, good! The Bible affirms that God's law is written on our hearts. Even if we're incapable of perfectly keeping that law as embodied in the Ten Commandments, deep in the core of our beings, we know that to ignore the needs of others is to perpetrate murder and we also know that's not right. As is true of all the commands of God, if this one points us to the Jesus, where the undeserved forgiveness, mercy, and new ways of living can come to us, then it's doing its work!
In the next installment, I hope to wrap up my discussion of the Fifth Commandment.