Killer

I kill people all the time.

I try not to. I’ve been working on it.

But then another news story airs about another slimy politician and I find myself yelling at the TV, belittling the person, creating fresh insults, and cheering when my favorite late-night comedians stick it to ’em good.

There’s blood on my hands.

Oh, you may say, we all do that. We all debase from a distance. We all deride from the La-Z-Boy. The football coach who calls for the run. The TV preacher who asks for our money. The CEO who cuts workers rather than her own pay. We all disparage these things. And shouldn’t we?

Nope.

“I am not to belittle, insult, hate, or kill my neighbor—not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds—and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge.”

One of my earliest sermons was on this portion of the Catechism. I wrote the sermon for my “Heidelberg Catechism preaching class” and as a seminarian I preached and re-preached it several times. Even now, years later, I hear the words of Q&A 105 in my head as I read them then as an earnest seminarian, pausing on each word just slightly: Belittle. Insult. Hate. Kill.

In the sermon I told a story from seventh grade, about how a boy called me a bad name and how a bit of me died when he said it.

What I didn’t say in the sermon, and what I can hardly admit now, is how much better I am at breaking commandment number six than that boy ever was. In the years since my seminary life, I’ve perfected the art of killing someone with the roll of an eye or insulting someone with a sigh. I know how to slouch in a meeting to convey my disgust and how to wrinkle my nose just so. I can hold a glare for as long as it takes, and I can give lessons on pursing my lips. I could kill you with a look.

This makes me horrible at poker.

It also makes me quite deficient as a follower of Jesus.

“By condemning envy, hatred, and anger God tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to be patient, peace-loving, gentle, merciful, and friendly to them, to protect them from harm as much as we can, and to do good even to our enemies.”

“To protect them from harm as much as we can.”

When I’m piling on with the late-night comedians, or nodding my amens as a colleague derides a co-worker, or turning my head to be sure another driver sees my rage, I am far from obeying this command. I am far from protecting these others from harm. I am far from the kingdom.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon me.

For I need mercy. I need it like water, I need it like air. I need the merciful conviction of the Holy Spirit who refuses to let me think that this behavior is acceptable. I need the mercy of the Father who views these commands as a vow to keep and is heartbroken at my betrayal. I need the mercy of the Son who bled for my murderous heart, and who rose again so that it can be redeemed.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon me.

Where I have a heart of stone that takes joy in the suffering of others, that even—mercy—seeks to inflict it, give me a heart of flesh. Give me a heart of flesh that aches with the pain of others and longs, indeed craves, to protect them from harm as much as I can. Give me a heart that breaks for those who are belittled. Lift away not only the heaviness of the sins committed, but the heaviness of the guilt, the weight of the past, the regrets of words spoken and looks sent out, and wash, wash, wash away the blood on my hands.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant me your peace.

Amen.

Mary Hulst is the chaplain of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.