Posted on June 24th, 2013
Who are your enemies? That’s the context of today’s Gospel reading: the words of Jesus, “Love your enemies.” He repeats it, for He knows the words are difficult: “Love your enemies.” It’s challenging enough to love—truly love—your family and friends. For what we love most is ourselves: our own desires, our own comforts, our own egos. And we subject the ones we ought to love to our neuroses and phobias, our sorrows and wrath and manipulation.
“Love your enemies”? Hardly. We hates them. You may dress up that hatred with a slow shake of your head, a sorrowful look, but behind it is condemnation, dressed up with piety and faux concern.
“Love your enemies”? You don’t. You hardly love anyone but yourself. So when Jesus says, “Hypocrite!” He’s addressing you. For who are you? Last Sunday’s gospel said who you are: a lost sheep, rescued by Christ. If you then are the lost sheep who has been rescued, why then do you judge your neighbor, who is simply another lost sheep, no different than you?
The words of Jesus tell us to look at our enemy, and then look in the mirror and see a greater enemy of God. “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye?” That enemy of yours you love to hate? His sin is a speck. Yours? A log. The image is preposterous. We’ve all had a speck in our eye – it’s painful, but minor. A plank in your eye means permanent damage, blindness. That’s who you are: blind, not seeing your own sin, and so perceiving others as enemies and yourself as a friend of God, as pretty good.
So don’t judge your neighbor, don’t regard him as your enemy, for the one sinner you need to be concerned about is yourself.
But there is an exception. And that is where God has made you a judge. Then you must judge. A father who does not rebuke his son does him no favors. A pastor who does not rebuke sin abuses his office. A police officer who lets criminals go free is not doing her job.
If God has not given you the authority and command to judge, then forget about what others do. If we condemn our neighbor without the authority from God to do so, then God will judge us for taking His right to ourselves. That is why Joseph said to his brothers in that first reading we heard today, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?” How could Joseph refuse to forgive his repentant brothers? For that is what this kind of judging is that our Lord speaks of today – a refusal to forgive, and thus making ourselves out to be God.
Thus the Eighth Commandment tells us what the godly life looks like: defending others, speaking well of them, explaining everything in the kindest way.
What then is our Lord’s counsel? Look at yourself in the mirror of the law; concentrate upon your own sin; then, you won’t notice the speck in your brother’s eye.
“But pastor, you don’t understand how badly I’ve been hurt! He told lies about me, she wasn’t fair!” No doubt you have been hurt. There is one thing to do: “Forgive,” says Christ Jesus; and in saying this, He describes what He Himself will do, how He will show mercy to His enemies. We heard in this morning’s first Psalm, called the “Introit,” or “Entrance” Psalm, “When the wicked came against me, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell.” The Psalms all have their meaning and fulfillment in Christ, and here, we see a prophecy of Jesus in Gethsemane, when the temple guard came after Him with clubs and swords. They stumbled and fell at His Word and Name, when He said, “I AM.” But Jesus submitted to their violence; even though He had every right to judge them. Instead, He prayed for their forgiveness; and some, such as the centurion and one of the criminals crucified with Jesus, came to faith, seeing His patience and mercy. Jesus did not lash out and condemn those who murdered Him; neither did He harbor angry thoughts. Instead, He prayed for them, and for us, when He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Joseph also prefigures our Lord, when he comforts his brothers, the very ones who cast him into a pit, tore his clothes, sold him into slavery, and declared him dead to their father. After the death of Jacob their father, these same brothers come, fearful of Joseph’s judgment; and would we not, by every human standard, think Joseph right in holding a grudge against his brothers? But Holy Scripture says, “He comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”
The Christian imitates these sons of Israel, and implores the God of all mercy to show mercy to us and forgive all our wrongdoings and evil thoughts. We sang, “Make atonement for our sins, O Lord,” and in the death of Jesus, He has done just that.
So these words, “Be merciful,” are not words of Law; we cannot be saved by our own acts of mercy. We are merciful when we remember His mercy toward us; or, as St. John puts it, “We love because He first loved us.” Today’s Gospel reading, then, shows us not how we are to be saved, but how we, the saved, are to be. That is not Law, or a rule to follow, as though we are saved by faith plus works. Rather, it is what Scripture calls the fruit of faith; and we confess this in Article VI of the Augsburg Confession, which says in part, “It is also taught among us that such faith should produce good fruits and good works and that we must do all such good works as God has commanded, but we should do them for God’s sake and not place our trust in them.” Those good works can all be summed up in these two words of Jesus: “Be merciful.”
So that is the life of faith. Is it hard? Certainly. To beat back your anger and resentment, to squelch your pride, and not judge, may be one of the crosses you have to bear, as our Lord molds you into the Christian He wants you to be. Listen then to these words of Luther: “When a Christian suffers injustice at the hands of his neighbor, he should say, I see a splinter in his eye, but if I look into the mirror, I see in my own eyes planks large enough to build several hog troughs” [House Postil, Trinity IV, First Sermon].
All our sinful judging, and the judgement we deserve for our vile deeds and iniquitous life – all has been laid on our Lord Jesus, who was judged for our offenses. So we approach the altar of judgment and hear again the verdict: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” That’s the judgment we give out to our neighbors as we eagerly await the redemption of our bodies on the coming day of resurrection.