Don’t Think You Can Get By With Murder
After years of falling murder numbers, the FBI announced in mid-September that Chicago was the murder capital of the USA with a homicide rate 27% higher than New York City, and 49% higher than LA. This happened during a summer of intense gang battles that often found victims, not in opposing gang members, but innocent victims sitting in their living rooms or standing on street corners. The end of summer was marred by an 18 day period in September in which Chicago’s 21 murders accounted for more than the annual total of 8 states.
Even living in Chicago, in the recent past, it has been easy to shrug off the murder numbers. Those lives were being taken in Englewood, Roseland or the Austin neighborhoods, far from my stomping grounds. But this year, gun fire has been ringing out in my neighborhood. One September shooting was a student I coached in basketball last year, who was shot in the back only a block from my home.
To add to the situation in Chicago, 70% of all homicides go unsolved within the city. Imagine the confidence of a would be assailant knowing that chances are better than 2 in 3 that he or she would get by with murder.
But before you start talking about murderers gone mad — are you one who can really talk? Don’t be too quick to let yourself off the hook. Just because you have not been in the back of a sedan spraying bullets randomly into a crowd don’t assume that you aren’t trying to get by with murder. The jump in murder rates like Chicago has experienced the last two years is a microcosm of a wide-spread devaluing of human life.
Nearly 50 years ago, the March 1964 murder of Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese created an outcry in America. This 28 year-old woman was returning to her home in Queens from her work as a manager at a local bar. On her way into her apartment building, she was stabbed in the back twice. At that point, Kitty screamed out, “Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!” Lights came on in the nearby building, and a man leaned out of the window and yelled, “Leave the girl alone.” And the assailant fled. But he would return twice more, over a total of 35 minutes, before he would take her life. Reports would later report that 38 people had witnessed the murder, but no one bothered to help.
Who was guilty of this young woman’s murder? Was it the hooded assailant who lingered in the alley between the parking lot and the apartment entrance? Yes, he was guilty. But guilt also extends to the large group of people who heard her screams, yet chose to remain uninvolved. If any had gone to her aid between attacks, perhaps her life could have been saved.
Living in the city I see too often the closing of ranks, and the tight lips of community members refusing to turn in the culprit. And the innocents continue to fall because of the negligence of those who refuse to intervene.
It is at moments like this that we begin to wrestle with the full weight of 1 John 3:15, 17-18. John begins by telling his readers, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” At this point a lot of Christians will smugly respond, “I’m not guilty. I haven’t hated my brother.” But don’t think you can get by with murder!
As we continue to read, we discover that John doesn’t define hate in the way that we expect. There isn’t even a hint of strong negative feelings. What he describes as murderous hate is simply turning your back, walking away, failing to get involved “… If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” Answer: “It can’t!”
Have you ever turned your back on a brother or sister in need, not just an assault victim crying in the street, but a family whose principle earner had lost their job and the utilities were being cut-off or the children were not being well-fed? (Living in Chicago, where begging is something of a cottage industry, I am not asking about responding to every “cup holder”) Have you refused to dig deep to help someone who had fallen behind in their mortgage, because they were trying to get the bill collectors off their back for unanticipated medical bills? Knowing that someone couldn’t make it to church because they couldn’t afford the gas, have you failed to facilitate their spiritual need by sending them a $10 note in the mail? If you have, according to John, you’re guilty of murder.
Negligence of your personal ministry is just as great a wrong as sinful disobedience.
Now let’s move beyond money to other places murder by apathy can be deadly. What about the emotionally wounded? The depressed? The discouraged? The fearful? The lonely? Have you passed by those who are broken and defeated, abandoned and abused, ignoring their plight, giving them the message that you don’t care because you let them suffer in silence? When you do, remember you’re guilty of murder, and the crime you commit could even be less humane than a bullet in the back. Your crime leaves them in lonely, grinding misery that slowly crushes the life out of them. Don’t think you can get by with murder!
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”