The Fourth Sunday after Trinity
June 27, 2010; July 16, 2017
“Showing the Mercy We Have Received”
“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Luke 6:36-42
We come to know God as our Father as he is merciful to us. Mercy is compassion. It is kindness. It is a generosity of spirit that genuinely cares about the needs of the other. Mercy does not condemn or stand in judgment of others. Mercy forgives. God is our merciful Father. We are his dear children.
Jesus reveals our merciful Father. The Father and the Son have always existed with the Holy Spirit. God is eternally triune. This means that God did not become the Father when he created us or when he sent his Son to redeem us or when he sent the Holy Spirit to sanctify us to be his children. God has always been the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But God has become our Father, as Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” It is only through Jesus that we can know God as our Father. Jesus reveals God’s mercy. We come to know God as our Father in his mercy. We find his mercy nowhere else than in his Son.
Be merciful. Do not judge. Do not condemn. Forgive. Give. This is what Jesus tells us to do. He is speaking to his Christians, to those who know God through him. We have received the Father’s mercy. We have seen the Father set aside judgment and condemnation. He did so at the cross where the divine law judged and condemned Jesus in our place. The innocent suffered for the guilty. Our sins were forgiven by means of the vicarious suffering of Jesus. We have received the Father’s forgiveness. He gave. He gave us his only begotten Son. As we have received mercy, we are to be merciful. As we have seen God set aside his judgment and condemnation of us, we are to set aside judgment and condemnation of others. As God has forgiven us, we are to forgive others.
Like father, like son. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The home in which we are raised impresses upon us certain patterns of behavior that stay with us all our lives. We may not always like being identified with a particular family—perhaps we’d rather be seen as individuals with our own unique characteristics—but we can hardly deny family characteristics.
So it is with the family of God, the Holy Christian Church.
Every once in a while atheism grasps for a bit of social respectability. Since there is nothing respectable in denying the existence of God, atheists love to point out all of the crimes of religious people, the wars and the violence and the intolerance spawned by various religious creeds. Christianity, usually, is singled out for blame.
The fact is that the Christian faith has inspired countless acts of mercy throughout history. From hospitals to schools for the underprivileged to millions and millions of individual acts of mercy and kindness, Christians have been imitating the mercy of their heavenly Father for centuries. During the twentieth century, atheistic ideologies led to mass murder unparalleled in the history of the world. The gospel of Christ, on the other hand, has inspired innumerable acts of mercy offered by Christians in imitation of their heavenly Father’s love.
Imitating God’s mercy is one thing. Playing God is something else. Imitating God’s mercy is embracing the crucifixion of Jesus as our own personal place where we meet our God. It is to die and rise again in Holy Baptism. It is to eat the body that was given into death and to drink the blood that was shed. There, as God joins us to the death of his Son, we find our identity. Our sins are forgiven. God is our Father. From receiving our identity in Christ we imitate our God and Father.
Playing God is when we assume God’s authority to judge and condemn. We take it upon ourselves to stand in judgment of others. We make up the rules. We apply the rules. We criticize, judge, and condemn others because they don’t live up to our standards. This, we have no right to do.
This does not mean that we do not have the right to apply God’s standards. We have not only the right but the duty to do so. When God speaks, it is so. The Bible is God’s Word. Where the Bible speaks God speaks and that settles the matter. The Church has the duty to stand on the teaching of the Bible. She must insist that the biblical standards of right and wrong still apply today. When she does so, she is not judging and condemning contrary to her Lord’s command. She is confessing the truth.
But even when we are dealing with people caught up in sin and defending their sin we are dealing with people for whom Jesus died. We do not condone sin. We never condone what God condemns as sin. But we also never forget that when God showed mercy to us he showed mercy to real sinners guilty of real sins. Mercy triumphs over judgment. It happened at the cross. It happens in our lives.
St. Paul writes in Galatians:
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2
You cannot restore someone else unless you have been restored. You cannot lead someone else to repentance if you have not repented. God’s law judges and condemns. We don’t. God restores us by leading us to repentance. He shows us our sins and then shows us our Savior from sin. The repentant heart has a spirit of gentleness.
If you presume to correct your brother or sister while refusing to acknowledge your own sins to God you are like the man with a big board in his eye who tries to point out the speck in someone else’s eye. That’s hypocrisy. The only good reason to point out someone else’s sin is so that he can be forgiven of it. Only those who, through repentance and faith, have received the forgiveness of sins from God are in any position to point out the sins of their neighbors. Receiving forgiveness enlightens the heart and the mind. Only those who have received mercy know how to show it.
Showing mercy and a nonjudgmental attitude toward others entails more than forgiving. It includes interpreting their actions in the kindest possible way. This is not to excuse sin. Sin is sin. But people caught up in sin need more than judgment and condemnation. Jesus did not come into this world to condemn the world. Nothing does more to compromise the gospel we confess than when we display a judgmental and condemnatory attitude toward others.
It is easy enough to withhold unkind judgment from our friends who do us right. What our Lord requires of us is that we withhold judgment from our enemies who do us wrong. When we consider what others have done against us we are to treat them as God has treated us. “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” This is not a suggestion. It is a command.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” We bear God’s name. We are baptized in his name. We have received the family name. We are known as Christians. We hallow God’s name when we forgive those who have done us wrong and try to explain their actions in the kindest possible way. When we are misjudged by others, we respond with kindness. We do not repay condemnation with condemnation.
Conflict between God and sinners is resolved where Christ was crucified by sinners and for sinners. He was crucified by sinners, but it was God’s holy will that he suffer for them. It was God who judged the sin of the human race, and it was God who punished all sin when Jesus faced the whip, the mockery, the cruel jokes, the pain of the nails, and the suffocation on the cross. His suffering was the pain of bearing God’s punishment of sin.
For Jesus knew no sin. He didn’t repay judgment with judgment. He forgave those who tormented him. Innocence faced sin and triumphed over it. In that victory, mercy defeated judgment. Forgiveness overcame condemnation. Where we are reconciled with our Creator—there on the cross—is where we are reconciled with those who do us wrong.
So we forgive the brother who sins against us. We don’t forgive because he deserves it. We forgive because he needs it. It is a miserable life to live under the judgment and condemnation of others. God has relieved us of our misery. We show who and what we are as Christians when we relieve others of the same.
The heart of our Christian faith is that God, for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, has forgiven us all our sins, showered us with fatherly mercy, and removed judgment and condemnation from us. This is what makes us free. This is what brings us joy. This is what brings us to heaven. This is ours and nobody can take it away from us. God gave it to us.
We can’t lose forgiveness by giving it away. When we give it away, we still have it. What a wonder! We keep on giving and we keep on getting. We get “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.” That’s what life is all about: giving what we have received and receiving more and more.