Please turn to our Gospel lesson for today, Luke 6:36-41 where Jesus encourages us to be merciful toward one another, as merciful as God is toward us.
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Is God serious about his commandments? Yes, he is. They are commandments, not suggestions. James reminds us that if we were to keep the commandments perfectly, and then just once in our lives speak even one curse, or even one unkind word in anger, we would be guilty of breaking his commandments. You are either perfect or a sinner. There is no such thing in God’s book as 99.9% pure. 99.9% pure is still impure in his eyes. God is serious about his commandments; about everything he commands us to do and everything he commands us to avoid.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day understood that God was serious about every one of his commands. So, they thought, “It is our job to point out to others when they have broken any of God’s commands.” When the disciples were walking through the fields on a Sabbath and picking grain, they pointed out that the disciples were breaking the Sabbath. Or when Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple and then went to the party Matthew gave to which he invited some of his former fellow tax collectors, they pointed out that these people Jesus was eating with were liars and cheats. They felt that they were doing their God-given job by pointing out sin when they saw it and making sure people understood that God is serious about his Commandments.
But on both those occasions Jesus reprimanded them with words from Hosea. He told them that they were wrong in what they were doing because they had not learned the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. God’s is serious about every single one of his Commandments being kept. He wants people to bring the sacrifices he has commanded and keep every Commandment. But, because no one can keep every Commandment perfectly, mercy is even more important than sacrifice.
Jesus begins this section with the words, be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. What does that mean? How is our Father, our heavenly father, merciful? Jesus says in the previous verse that the Father is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. He is kind, not only to those who don’t deserve his kindness. He is kind to those who deserve just the opposite, to those who deserve his judgment, who deserve to be cast into the eternal fires of hell because they have disobeyed even just one of his commands.
The point is that he is kind, he is merciful, to you and to me. What Jesus wants us to see is that there isn’t one of us who have kept all his commands perfectly. He wants us to see that each and every one of us are ungrateful and wicked in God’s eyes. And yet, he is kind to us. We grumble about the food we have to eat, but he still gives us food to eat. We number ourselves among those who are considered wicked when we curse, or tell lies, or disobey those in authority, or gossip, or lust, or covet. And yet God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. He is merciful and he proved it in the most amazing way possible. While we were still sinners, while we were ungrateful and wicked, Christ died for us. He didn’t say, “first clean up your act and be perfect from now on and then I will think about saving you from your previous sins.” No. While we were sinners; while we were his enemies; even though we still are not keeping his Commandments perfectly; Jesus came to earth to live perfectly in our place, to take on himself the punishment we deserve, and to rise in victory from the dead. That’s the kind of mercy God has shown us.
The point that Jesus is making in Luke 6 is that, as those who know the mercy God has shown us, we are moved to be like him in our dealings with others. He says that if you show love and mercy and kindness to those who show love and mercy and kindness to you, that’s no big deal. Even people who have no use for God do those kinds of things. But God shows love, mercy and kindness to the ungrateful and the wicked. He sends sunshine and rain on both the evil and the just. Jesus prayed that the father would forgive those who were crucifying him. He loved those who hated him and did good to those who persecuted him. The disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. We will never be above Jesus, but, as we grow in the knowledge of his word, and as we grow in faith, we become more and more like our teacher who prayed that those who were causing him unbelievable pain would be shown mercy, and be forgiven.
So, as you look at others and compare their words and actions to God’s commands, do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Jesus even uses an example to explain what he means. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to notice the beam in your own eye? Or how can you tell your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck in your eye,’ when you do not see the beam in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck in your brother’s eye.
Jesus is not saying that we can never point out a sin. He is saying, before you attempt to point out something sinful someone else is doing, look in the mirror. First make sure that you clearly understand that you are not perfect and that you need the mercy and forgiveness of God just as much as everyone else, just as much as the worst sinner you can imagine. Only when you have experienced God’s mercy will you be able to be merciful to others. Only when you see how much you have been forgiven will you be able to forgive others. Only then will you be able to talk to someone about what God says without having a judgmental attitude. As Paul says, Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Unless you have seen the beam in your own eye, and had it removed by seeing your undeserved forgiveness in Jesus, you will just be a blind man trying to guide a blind man.
Jesus had pointed out that the people of the world give in order to get something in return. They invite people to their dinner parties so that they will be invited in return. But as we grow to be like our teacher, we show that we are sons of our Heavenly Father when we give to others not expecting anything in return. When you consider all that God has given you, and the fact that you can’t take any of it with you when you die, you are moved to be very generous in your giving to the Lord and to others. And God does promise that the measure you use as you give to the Lord and others will be used when things are measured back to you. If you use a skimpy measure, if you try to make sure that there is a lot of air in the cup along with what you are measuring out to others, instead of shaking it and packing it down and even letting it overflow, that’s how it will be measured back to you. Or the Bible puts it another way, you reap what you sow. If you sow sparingly, skimping on the seed, you won’t reap as much as if you sow the seed generously.
Probably the best illustration of this principle is the one God uses in Malachi. “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, `How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse– the whole nation of you– because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty.
When you know how generous God is to you, giving you much more than you deserve, and when you know his promise to always provide what you need for your body and life, you are moved to be generous in return. You are moved to put God first, others next and yourself last. And God promises that he will use the measure you have used when he gives back to you.
None of us will ever be as merciful as God is to us. None of us will always avoid judging others more harshly than ourselves or avoid thinking that others deserve God’s condemnation more than we do. None of us will be as generous as we could be. So, none of these things earn us anything from God. Yet in his grace and mercy, he forgives our judgmentalism, our failure to forgive, our lack of generous giving to him and to others. He forgives us, only because Jesus did all those things we fail to do perfectly. He forgives us, only because Jesus took on himself the punishment we rightly deserve.
Having seen your own sins and having experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness in Jesus, be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.