23 June 2013 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Luke 6:36-42
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged.”
If we were to interrupt our Lord at this point, a lot of people would be out of work: the entire judicial branch of the federal government, anyone who tastes chili at a cook-off, and even Judge Judy would be removed from her bench.
Of course, our Lord is not against the hearing of cases before magistrates – in fact, there is a book in the Bible called “Judges” – as this was the way Israel was governed before she had a king. There is nothing in Scripture for us to speak against chili cook-offs, and it would be hard to imagine Judge Judy drawing up wills for a living.
No, the Lord is not denouncing the concept of judging. In fact, he is calling upon all of us – whether we are official judges or not – to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Just about every vocation in life must render judgments. Every parent who has had to settle a family dispute, every teacher who has to figure out which student (if any) is telling the truth in a classroom argument, every umpire that rules “fair” or “foul,” is engaging in judgment.
Pastors are sometimes called upon to render judgments – sometimes involving ethical questions, or when parishioners are faced with difficult choices, or even in cases where a person may be impenitent of a sin.
Our Lord is warning us that when we do render a judgment – whether within our vocation or not – that we will be judged the same way by God. “For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
So, we would indeed do well to “be merciful” – even as our Father “is merciful.”
The word “merciful” can also be translated as “compassionate.” The word “compassion” in English actually means to suffer with someone else who is suffering. It means to be in sync with another person or living being, to internalize their pain, to be filled with the desire to alleviate their anguish as if it were our own. To be “merciful” in this sense is to empathize, to see things from another’s perspective rather than our own, and then try to find a way to ease their pain and suffering.
And in this fallen life, we all suffer. That is what it means to be a sinner in a sinful world. We are in this together. We all feel pain. We all are saddened by disappointment. We all grieve misfortune. We all mourn for those who die while we yet live. And each day that goes by, we are ourselves one day closer to dying.
And when we look at it that way, the things we get so angry about, so worked up over, suddenly don’t seem so important.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Our Lord encourages us in showing mercy by making a joke – or at least a humorous exaggeration. For in our sins, we magnify the faults of others into skyscrapers, while we shrink our own down to the level of an anthill. Our Lord asks the rhetorical question: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Our Lord identifies this mis-proportionality of which we are all guilty. He says to us: “You hypocrite,” and yes, dear friends, this means you, it means me, it means every person who has ever walked on this planet except for one, and it is He who is speaking. “You hypocrite,” He says, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
This is the context of the “judge not” statement. It does not mean that the courts should wink at injustice, that foul balls should be called fair, nor that Judge Judy should refuse to render a verdict in a case (nor hold back in her entertaining way of running her courtroom). But it does mean that we need to judge ourselves with the strictness that we so love judging our brothers and sisters. We need to take the log out of our own eye. We need to humbly realize that “a disciple is not above his teacher.” And our Teacher is merciful and compassionate.
But let us not forget why this is the case. Let us not simply add our Lord’s exhortation to the Ten Commandments and chalk it up to one more thing we fail at. For once more, dear friends, our Lord’s point was what He said right up front: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Our Father is merciful. He is compassionate toward us. He is saddened by our disappointments. He grieves our misfortune. He mourns for us as we die – even if one day at a time. He is merciful because He is patient, kind, loving, and forgiving. Rather than lash out at us in anger, He sympathizes with us, suffers for us, and dies in our place. And, dear friends, even as “everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher,” our Teacher rose from the dead, and trains us to walk in His very footsteps to overcome our crosses, to conquer sin, death, and the grave.
Dear brothers and sisters, listen to the promise the Lord makes to us as a sign and seal of His mercy: “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap.”
For the Lord measures His gifts to us out of His mercy, and the measure He uses is generous – certainly a measure that we in no way deserve. The Lord heaps His blessings upon us to overflowing, so that we can hardly even carry it around.
And when we focus on the Lord’s mercy, when we meditate on His kindness to us (in spite of our petty judgmentalism and vain hypocrisy), when we read the command “judge not” in light of the Lord’s mercy toward us, it becomes clear that there is no cause or reason for us to lack compassion, to be quick to anger and condemn, or to be stingy and self-centered.
Dear friends, our good, gracious, forbearing, patient Lord is merciful beyond measure. And it is this grace and mercy that empower us according to His Word: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Amen.
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