The greater reactivity of esters relative to amides has typically been reflected in their faster rates of both solvolysis and enzymatic hydrolysis. In contrast to this general principle, the serine hydrolytic enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) was found to degrade amides and esters with equivalent catalytic efficiencies. Mutation of a single lysine residue (K142) to alanine (K142A) abolished this property, generating a catalytically compromised enzyme that hydrolyzed esters more than 500-fold faster than amides. Conversion of this same lysine residue to glutamic acid (K142E) produced an enzyme that also displayed severely diminished catalytic activity, but one that now maintained FAAH's ability to react with amides and esters at competitive rates. The significant catalytic defects exhibited by both the K142A and K142E mutants, in conjunction with their altered pH-rate profiles, support a role for lysine 142 as a general base involved in the activation of FAAH's serine nucleophile. Moreover, the dramatically different amide versus ester selectivities observed for the K142A and K142E mutants reveal that FAAH's catalytic efficiency and catalytic selectivity depend on distinguishable properties of the same residue, with the former relying on a strong catalytic base and the latter requiring coupled general acid-base catalysis. We hypothesize that FAAH's unusual catalytic properties may empower the enzyme to function effectively as both an amidase and esterase in vivo.