Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
39 He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.
41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
— Luke 6:36-42
Whenever we read or hear a portion of Scripture like our Gospel for today, the temptation is always to think that Jesus is talking to someone else. It’s easy for us to assume that He’s talking about other people’s sins, that what He’s describing is something only other people do – us rarely, if at all. We might be tempted to think that Jesus is usually talking to the people who aren’t here, to the unbelieving world, but not to us or about our sins. That’s never the case, but today it’s really not true. Everybody does what Jesus describes in our Gospel for today – everybody. Whether you’re someone who is part of the great mass of the unbelieving world, or you’re here in your pew every week and secretly proud of it, Jesus’ words today are directed at you. He is describing your behavior and mine, and His words should rebuke us and shape the way we act toward one another every day. Let’s take a closer look as Jesus teaches us to Look to Your Own Mercy First – the mercy you’ve received, and the mercy you are to give.
“Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.” This is where it all starts, the one absolutely essential thing in the Christian life, without which nothing else would happen: God the Father’s mercy on us. Without that each of us is nothing, produces nothing, can be nothing. Nothing at all.
God had mercy on us while we were still dead in our sins, and His mercy is all the greater because it was totally undeserved, unearned, and unmerited. We were truly pitiful and in no way fit recipients of His mercy, but He gave it to us anyway. We had not shown ourselves worthy of any love or mercy from God – far from it! We deserved death and hell, not grace and peace, from God. G.K. Chesterton, a famous writer who also happened to be a Christian, once commented, “Children are innocent and love justice, while we are wicked and much prefer mercy.” I think Chesterton was on to something there. Children and the young tend to view the world in very black or white terms – either it’s right or it’s wrong. As you get older, you do more, you see more, maybe some things you wish you hadn’t seen or done. You begin to wish for mercy, hope for mercy, and root for God’s mercy — because we know we need it. Without God’s love I am lost. You are too. Each of us can flatly say that from the bottom of our hearts. We are totally undeserving. God knew what a sinner you would be, how weak and false to Him you’d prove to be on so many occasions, and He still chose to love you! That’s mercy!
So that is the kind of mercy that Jesus wants us to display in our lives – the kind that doesn’t ask if the other person deserves it, and frankly doesn’t care. It just keeps right on serving, helping, submitting, loving, and respecting, regardless of what the other person dishes out. Everything that Jesus says in this text falls in line underneath that great idea of showing undeserved mercy, or love, or respect, to others.
I don’t need to tell you that the world’s idea of mercy is far different. People are usually willing to do things to help you out – provided that they’re guaranteed you’ll help them in return. That’s not really mercy, that’s trading favors. The world is far more used to “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” and one hand washing the other. That’s the kind of mercy that thieves and cheats and politicians deal in.
To keep us from losing the mercy God has granted us, Jesus says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.” This verse has to be one of the most selectively quoted passages in the entire Bible. Some people, this is the only Scripture they know – “Don’t judge me, don’t you tell me I’m wrong! See, it says so in the Bible! You can’t tell me I’m wrong!” We need to remember the context of these words, because that helps us hold on to their true meaning. Jesus does not mean that we shouldn’t point out sin when we’re confronted with it, or that we can’t ever tell someone that what they’re doing doesn’t measure up to God’s law. That’s the duty of every Christian, and this verse doesn’t take away from that. We don’t judge hearts, but we do judge conduct, words, and actions – and those things give us plenty of room to apply God’s Word. That’s a different matter than what Jesus is talking about here when He says, “Do not judge.”
If you look in the rest of Luke chapter 6, you see that Jesus is talking about how we respond to people who mistreat us or abuse us, especially for the name of Christ. What Jesus means is that when someone wrongs you, you shouldn’t hold a grudge against them or wish them ill. You shouldn’t scheme on how to get back at them. You shouldn’t pass judgment on them — even if it’s in your heart – because that’s God’s business, not yours. Entrust all judgment to Him who judges justly. “Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, as it is written: It is Mine to avenge, I will repay, says the Lord…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Leave all that to God.
Resist the urge to appoint yourself as judge and jury over the wicked people you run into – or even over your fellow Christians, which is actually much more likely and much more damaging to the body of Christ. There’s no end of mischief and destruction that can happen if we set out to punish one another where we’re not supposed to. Think about it: if the devil can get us to act arrogantly and judge one another, there’ll be hard feelings and bad blood, and pretty soon the church of God is split with divisions all over again. When you let someone else drag you into holding grudges or keeping track of wrongs done against you, then the blind are leading the blind – and you’re the blind person following a blind guide. If that happens, don’t wonder why you’re in a ditch all of a sudden. Open your eyes and repent and climb out of the ditch.
Refusing to forgive is a form of blindness. It deprives you of true sight. You can’t see straight spiritually when you refuse to forgive. Really, we want to put ourselves in the place of God when we refuse to forgive someone – and ironically, we refuse to forgive sins Jesus already paid for. That’s why Jesus commands us to forgive. God had mercy on us and forgave us when we were unworthy, and so He commands us to forgive in the same way. God bids us to show mercy in the same way He did – and if we do, then we are assured of being forgiven. Forgiving others proves that you understand what a great debt you owed to God, and that you’re humble and grateful to Him. You see your own sin first, which means you see others’ sins against you properly. Then you’re ready to forgive – even if the other person doesn’t deserve it, or they don’t care that they hurt you.
Forgiving that way is hard. It goes against our sinful nature. We want to hang on to the wrongs that are done to us, because in a way they define us. They show that we are important and we matter, if the offenses against us are so great. It can be hard to let go of past wrongs and to move on – even if you want to. I know that, and Jesus knows it even more, which is why it’s so consoling when He says, “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” We can’t forgive more perfectly than Jesus, but then again we don’t have to. We just have to do the best we can, even if that’s not a lot at the moment, and work at it until we really and truly forgive someone – but we still do have to forgive one day.
Jesus promises us that when we do give others our forgiveness, God gives forgiveness to us. When Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap – for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” He’s talking somewhat about material things, but not entirely. If you look in the context again, He had been talking about physical possessions and money before this, but here He expands it to include spiritual things as well. It’s generally true – if you measure generously when you give or forgive others, then it will be measured generously back to you.
That’s why Jesus’ warning about specks and planks hits home so hard. It is a constant peculiarity of the human condition to be hyper-sensitive about the faults and failings of other people, and almost totally ignorant of the true extent of your own failings. There is nobody who does not do this at one time or another – and “I’m not perfect, but then again nobody is,” doesn’t cut it.
Think about what it would actually be like if you had a huge piece of wood sticking out of your face – a literal 2X4. Someone says hi to you, and you turn your head. “Hi!” – and whack, you smack them in the head with your 2X4. You say to your fellow Christian, “Here, I see a tiny speck in your eye that you don’t see, let me helpfully get that for you” – and smack, your 2X4 hits them in the face. “Ow, get away from me, what are you doing?!” It’s a ridiculous picture, and it’s meant to be, because that’s how sin works. Sin separates us from each other. It interferes with our living together as the body of Christ. When your unresolved sin, your sin that you refuse to acknowledge, comes between you and a fellow believer, it has the exact same effect as swinging a 2X4 at them.
You hypocrites. Or should I say, my fellow hypocrites – because everyone does this. Jesus’ calling us “hypocrites” has a quiet, friendly tone to it, but there’s no mistaking what He means. The problem is not the other person. The problem is you. The problem is me. The problem is your sin and my sin, your inattention and mine, your uncaringness and mine. As I look out from this pulpit, we could each list off each other’s planks – but then we’d be doing what Jesus tells us not to, so I’ll say what we each need to tell ourselves when our planks get in the way: Repent. Return to the mercy you had at first, for yourself, and you will be forgiven. Amen.