Killing, Hostility, and Degradation

“Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; and ‘whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment’:
but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool’, shall be in danger of the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

This was quite an astonishing way of saying things.

For generations teachers of the Law of Moses would not presume the authority to make their own naked declarations: whatever they would say would involve references to the Law and/or to noted rabbis. Yet here Jesus makes a break with tradition and begins a series of statements comparing and contrasting “what was said” with what “I say unto you” (Matthew 5:21-48). The multitudes proved suitably astonished: they marveled at how He taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes (Matthew 7:28-29).

He begins this extraordinary series of declarations with a well-known commandment: thou shalt not kill (Exodus 20:13, Matthew 5:21). “Whosoever shall kill will be in danger of the judgment” is not explicitly found in that word-for-word form in the Law but its sentiment is a proper conclusion of passages like Exodus 21:12-14, Leviticus 24:21, Numbers 35:16-21, 30-34, and Deuteronomy 16:18. What the Law teaches is rooted in Genesis 9:5-6: murdering another human being is wrong and sinful. Since God created all humans, and is no respecter of persons, all humans have value in God’s sight (cf. Genesis 1:26-27, Romans 2:11): therefore, a man taking the life of another man can never be a trivial matter. Such cases had to be adjudicated and done with the greatest care: justice needed to be done for the one who died, but the severity of the consequence, the death of the one who killed the man, was so serious that it merited a thorough trial. Furthermore, the Law made provision for intention: one who was guilty of what we would call involuntary manslaughter was not to be treated the same way as one who was guilty of first-degree murder (cf. Numbers 35:9-34). While mercy was called for in cases of involuntary manslaughter, there was to be no mercy in cases of first-degree murder: life for a life, blood for blood, was demanded, otherwise the integrity of life would be besmirched.

Jesus has no quarrel with the law regarding murder, the trial process for murder, or the consequences for murder. He in no way is attempting to minimize the need for justice to be done in cases of murder; while murderers, as the rest of us, can receive forgiveness for their sins, they still will have to suffer the civic consequences for their behavior. Jesus is in no way attempting to abrogate or minimize this law; He instead goes further with His warning.

Jesus focuses in directly on the “first-degree” part of “first-degree murder”: murder as an intentional, premeditated act. What motivates anyone to attempt to kill another human made in the image of God? Such an act is never motivated by love or based upon an application of the “Golden Rule.” Every first-degree murder is first committed in the mind, and it can only first be committed in the mind when there is some sort of hostility or enmity which is fostered and cultivated within the mind. This is Jesus’ focus in His “but I say unto you” declaration.

Jesus speaks in absolute terms: everyone who is angry with his brother is in danger of the judgment just as if he had murdered him; the one who says, “Raca,” meaning “empty” or perhaps colloquially “airhead,” is in danger of being brought before the council, or Sanhedrin, and the one who calls his brother a fool is in danger of Gehenna, God’s trash pit. These are very serious warnings and demand the listener’s attention!

There is an understandable desire to temper what Jesus says: He Himself will call the Pharisees and scribes fools in Matthew 23:17, and Paul will tell Christians to be angry and sin not in Ephesians 4:26. Yet we do well to also consider how John considers one who hates his brother as a murderer in 1 John 3:14-15.

The core message of Jesus’ instruction is clear enough: murder is the result of a process, and the process therefore is as dangerous, sinful, and wrong as its result. Murder is the result of everything from anger to insult and, as John will show as perhaps worst of all, indifference, having no concern about the fate of others (hate being understood as lack of active love, or loving less, as is often in the New Testament; so Luke 14:26). Yes, one can be angry with another person without killing them, but one cannot kill another person without having some sort of anger at them. Yes, it is possible to despise or be indifferent to the existence of another human being without murdering them, but murder is often motivated by a careless disregard and contempt for the life of the one killed. These attitudes and thought patterns can lead to the deed, and even when they do not lead to the deed, are still unprofitable, unproductive, and quite toxic to God’s real intent. God is not merely interested in having us not kill each other: He wants us to affirm the value of each person as another made in the image of God and therefore of inestimable value. If we are angry with another human, or show disregard, contempt, or indifference toward another human, we are not honoring him or her as fellow children of God, and thus find ourselves in danger of judgment and condemnation. The works of the flesh are indifferent to, callous of, or even abusive of other people; the fruit of the Spirit cannot help but dignify and honor others as fellow children of God (Galatians 5:17-24).

Jesus therefore uses the ultimate negative in order to point His followers to the ultimate positive: murder is such a big deal because of the surpassing value of human life, and therefore God’s people must think, feel, and do all things in order to maintain the honor, value, and dignity of human life. Such honor, value, and dignity goes well beyond just avoiding ending the lives of others; by necessity it must continue to affirm their value and dignity, and thus our thoughts, feelings, and actions should always express that value and dignity. Anger and its subsequent hostility as well as insult and its subsequent degradation are incompatible with the honor and dignity inherent in the value of life. Jesus makes it clear that it is not enough to just not kill; we must also show love, and to show love demands that we honor and dignify our fellow humans and do all things toward that end. Therefore, let us seek the best interest of others, not only not killing them but also not allowing anger to fester into hostility and resentment, or to act presumptuously and insult and degrade them, and thus honor and glorify God who dignified them with life as He has us!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Killing, Hostility, and Degradation

Washing Feet

“If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14-15).

Few events in the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth had been more astounding.

The disciples and many others were amazed to see Jesus displaying power against demons, sickness, and even the natural world (Mark 1:27, 4:41). But it was expected that the Messiah would have power and authority (cf. Isaiah 11:1-10, etc.). His teachings were profound and also came with authority (Matthew 7:28-29), yet, after all, Jesus did come from God (cf. John 13:3).

And then the disciples saw Jesus carrying the basin of water with a towel around His waist.

The humiliation and degradation involved in foot washing has largely been lost on us. Nevertheless, it was acutely felt in the ancient world. People walked around barefoot or in sandals. If they lived in a city they would be walking in mostly unpaved streets with refuse and human waste everywhere. If they lived in rural areas they would be walking in the mire of the fields and the animal pens. Ladies who enjoy wearing flip-flops today can perhaps begin to sympathize with their ancient counterparts– nevertheless, at the end of the day, ancient feet were beyond disgusting. To enjoy a proper meal, they would need to be washed.

Generally it was a slave who was designated to wash the feet of the family members and their visitors. The lot would always fall to the slave with the least standing– the low man on the proverbial totem pole. It was not a job that anyone would enjoy– and it would certainly not be a task that anyone would consciously, willfully choose to do.

And yet the Lord of all, God made flesh, Him through whom all things were created (cf. John 1:1-3, 14) now stands before the disciples and proceeds to wash their feet (John 13:3-5).

Impetuous Peter cannot stand the thought of the Lord and Christ washing his feet (John 13:6-8). He keenly perceives Jesus’ humiliation to stoop to such a task and he cannot bear the idea of this role reversal. Peter knows that he should be washing Jesus’ feet, not the other way around! In order to alleviate the shame, Peter requests for Jesus to also wash his hands and head (John 13:9)– anything to make this humiliation of Jesus less humiliating.

Yet, as usual, Peter does not really understand what Jesus is doing. Jesus, of all people, is very aware of how humiliating and degrading it is to wash feet. Jesus perceives the astonishment, confusion, and perhaps even horror of His disciples. He then fully explains why He washed their feet, and in so doing, He provides one of the greatest challenges to any who would call themselves His disciples.

Jesus does not deny that He is Lord and Teacher– that He is. It is as their Lord and Teacher that He washed their feet– the most humiliating and degrading task– to teach them that if Jesus the Lord and Savior washes feet, so too ought those who follow Him. As Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, so the disciples should “wash the feet” of fellow disciples!

This is exceedingly important, and we should not get so wrapped up in arguments about whether we are to “literally” wash feet or not to cause us to miss the force and power of Jesus’ action and example. How many times in the Gospels does Jesus come out and say explicitly that He is providing an example? Not too many! Therefore, it is evident that Jesus is emphasizing this action and its meaning, and wants all of us to take notice.

Service is rarely glorious. Service is often demeaning. It can be repetitive and annoying. It may seem futile. It may offend our sensibilities. Jesus knows all of this, and that is why He washed the disciples’ feet.

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, humiliating and degrading Himself to the utmost (cf. Philippians 2:5-10), doing the most unimaginably disgusting job in the ancient world, then for those who call themselves His disciples, there is no job too humiliating or degrading to do in His name (cf. Colossians 3:17).

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that a given task is too beneath us for us to accomplish?

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that a given task is too repetitive or futile to accomplish?

If Jesus our Lord washed feet, who are we to say that expectations for us by others are too degrading and beneath our abilities?

Jesus shows us through His example that we must serve (1 John 2:6). We must do this in every aspect of our lives. Husbands and wives must “wash one another’s feet,” and should not complain that tasks are too degrading or repetitive or stupid (Ephesians 5:21). Parents and children ought to “wash one another’s feet” (Ephesians 6:1-4). Employees are to “wash feet” by working as to the Lord, no matter how obnoxious their earthly boss may be (Ephesians 6:4-9). We can find plenty of other ways in which we can serve in other capacities in our lives (Romans 6:15-23, 12:1).

Service is not always pleasant, enjoyable, novel, or exciting. It can be downright frustrating, humiliating, and obnoxious at times. But let us remember that Jesus our Lord washed feet, and we are to do likewise. Let us serve in all capacities as Jesus served so that He may obtain the honor and praise (cf. 1 Peter 1:7)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Washing Feet