Rabies Murder and Reconciliation
By Tracy Jessup
Gardner Webb College
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder;’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment…So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” — Matthew 5:21, 23-24
Author and Pastor David Jeremiah tells the story about a man whom a dog that was discovered to have rabies had bitten. Though the man was rushed to the hospital, medical science could do nothing to help the man, and his doctor faced the difficult task of telling him his condition was terminal.
“We’ll do all we can to make you comfortable,” the doctor said, “but in the meantime, I suggest you get your affairs in order.”
Immediately the man picked up a pencil and began writing vigorously on a sheet of paper.
“I’m glad to see you are working on your will,” the doctor told him.
“This ain’t no will, Doc,” the man replied. “This is a list of people I’m going to bite before I die!” (How to Live According to Jesus p. 34).
In today’s passage, Jesus begins a new section of the Sermon on the Mount by addressing second-hand interpretations of the Law. Six times in vv. 21-48, Jesus presents us with a contrast, each beginning with this formula: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago…but I say to you… (vv. 21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43). The contrast is not between the Law given through Moses and the teachings of Jesus. Jesus already has reminded us that he has not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (cf. 5:17). What we have here is a contrast between the true interpretation of the Law given by Jesus and the false interpretation given by the Pharisees. It is an explanation of how the righteousness of one who follows Christ exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees (cf. 5:20).
The scribes and Pharisees seemed to be attempting to restrict the application of the sixth commandment to the act of murder alone. By refraining from this action, they considered themselves to have kept the commandment. However, Jesus disagreed and maintained that the prohibition against murder included one’s thoughts and words as well as one’s actions. In other words, uncontrolled angry thoughts and insulting words are forms of violence and destruction.
Not only should we avoid uncontrolled angry thoughts and insulting words, but we also should take action toward reconciliation. Simply put, broken relationships with others influence our relationship with God. This is why Jesus says, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (5:23-24). John Stott writes, “If we want to avoid committing murder in God’s sight, we must take every possible positive step to live in peace and love with all men” (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, p. 86).
Prayer: Lord, help us not to harm others by our words, deeds, or thoughts. And when we do, may we take the initiative to mend the relationship.
Dr. Tracy Jessup serves as vice president for Christian Life and Service and senior minister to the University. He is a graduate of Gardner-Webb with a B.A. in Music and earned his M. Div. degree at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also teaches in the undergraduate department of religious studies and enjoys the opportunity to serve the local church through interim pastorates, pulpit supply, and preaching revival services. he and his wife, Teresa, have two children, Christian and Anna.