11-year-old Gleny, whom my husband and I are in the process of legally adopting along with her older sister and younger brother, recently approached me in the midst of the afternoon hustle and bustle in our kitchen and motioned her hand to pull me aside and speak in private.
This not being uncommon, I left whatever bulk-sized snack or dinner-warming project I was so intensely dedicated to on the kitchen counter and took a few steps to accompany my wild, immature, affectionate daughter near the doorway to our storage closet. (I think she adores me almost as much as I adore her.)
Our emotional roller-coaster Gleny wore a calm yet very resolute facial expression. I crouched down in front of her as she said: “Forgive me, Ma, for having killed you.”
Although her words could not have been spoken more clearly, my mind did a couple dazed somersaults as I thought I must have surely misheard her. After searching her face a second or two, groping for any kind of meaning, I asked dumbly, “What’s that?”
She repeated, completely sane, her brown eyes trained on mine: “Forgive me for having killed you.”
Having seen the dawn of understanding shed its light upon my face, she sighed and added, “Earlier this afternoon. When I got mad at you.”
I smiled into her eyes, remembering all too well what had happened between us just an hour or two before. I had asked her to do such-and-such terrible thing (like study or hang up her school uniform or wash her snack Tupperware), and she had responded in a moody, delayed obedience, muttering under her breath words that could sting the ears and heart. Such instances are not uncommon for my Wild-Miss-Gleny-in-the-Process-of-Being-Transformed, but her repentance and way of seeing the situation are definitely new.
Still crouched in front of her in that little nook in our busy kitchen, I followed her lead, humbling myself: “Forgive me for the times I’ve killed you. We’re all murderers, aren’t we?”
She smiled big, but perhaps my joy was even bigger than hers.
She sees, understands.
For the past couple months in our pull-your-chair-up-and-let’s-sit-in-a-circle Bible study, we’ve been studying Jesus’ radical words:
“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
So now…the standard – the expectation – has been raised. Infinitely so.
We are no longer asked to merely abstain from physically taking another human being’s life. (I don’t know about you, but I’m doing incredibly well with that command. I mean, I can pat myself on the back and announce to the world that my behavior in regard to the no-murder command is spotless. I haven’t slipped up even once!)
But Jesus says that now anyone who becomes angry unjustly is guilty of the same crime. Guilty of murder. Who hasn’t gotten mad at least once (or thousands of times) in their lifetime?
So, then, we’re ALL…murderers.
You know those cute babies or toddlers who go on a screaming and kicking fit even though they’ve been fed, changed, and had a nap recently? Yeah, they’re murders too.
So why did Jesus have to go and make the standard so unattainably high? Why couldn’t he just leave us with the solid, respectable command not to kill (which, even if broken, is quickly justified in times of war or self-defense)? Why would he go so far as to call all of humanity murderers? Even the ‘good people’?
We chewed on these questions with our kids, students and Christian laborers for several weeks as we met every Tuesday and Thursday in our oblong rectangle in our dining room to dig deep in the Word, in the Truth. I even posted these questions all over the walls in our school building to get the kids thinking in their free time.
After much effort, no one could understand why Jesus did it, why he went and raised the bar so high that no one could reach it. It almost seemed like a bad move to do so, right? A lot of his closest followers and friends abandoned him because his teachings were so hard to accept. I mean, what was he thinking? Did he want to discourage us all, eliminate us from the great Morality Competition? Why did he command us to do what we simply can’t?
So that we would recognize that we need a Savior.
Every single human being.
We had (have) to recognize that we simply cannot do it on our own, cannot reach the standard of perfection by our own strength. If all the commands from Heaven were easily attainable with a little moral training (and excusing), why send a Savior to die a cruel death, taking on the punishment we deserve? (And the ‘good people’ cry out: “What do you mean ‘the punishment I deserve’? I’m a ‘good person’ — I don’t kill, don’t steal and am (mostly) faithful with my spouse! I mean, I lie sometimes, but who doesn’t?“)
‘Good people’ and ‘respectable citizens,’ don’t await a punishment; murderers do. And especially serial killers, those who go around time and again taking the lives of others! (Are you starting to get the point?…How many times have I — have you — gotten mad today? In this past week? In the last 25 years?)
I praise God that my wild Gleny recognizes — as she did the other day and has done so several times since — that her temper flare-ups are the equivalent of taking a machete to someone’s throat or gunning them down with an AK-47. Because she understands this, she can very quickly and easily jump to the conclusion that she needs a savior.
So this knowledge of our status as ‘murders’ before the Just, Perfect God is infiltrating our household and rather effortlessly becoming a part of our worldview and our daily interactions as we continuously come back to the cross, remembering the punishment that we no longer have to pay.
A few days after the aforementioned incident in the kitchen with Gleny, 12-year-old Josselyn with her too-short bangs (that she cut) approached me in my bedroom doorway, her eyes wide, and informed me: “Before [learning that we are all murderers] I had never thought about it like that, but I’ve…killed a lot of people…” Her eyes and voice wandered off a bit as she processed such a strong thought.
Suddenly her eyes grew even wider as she swung up an extended finger to my face: “I’ve killed YOU!” And then, under her breath, “Several times.”
She looked up at me, both shocked and relieved at her own statement, and we began to laugh together.
“I know, Josselyn. I’ve killed you on numerous occasions too. But the good news is that Jesus already suffered our murderers’ punishment, and now we are forgiven if we believe in him. I mean, the only reason it makes sense to forgive one another is because God has forgiven us. Right?”
She sighed and nodded her head. Together we both continued to laugh out of a total relief — awe — at the goodness of God. He lets murderers off the hook, punishing his own son in order that the killers might experience freedom and mercy. What extravagant, undeserved love!