July 14, 2019
St. Luke 6:36-42
Last week we heard about a father who is merciful. The lost son, sometimes called the prodigal son, wasted everything. He was rebellious. He was ruined. He is us.
His father forgave him. His father was merciful.
That’s the foundation for today’s Gospel. Without the merciful father, the words of Jesus will be abused, misused, misunderstood. The merciful father is everything.
“Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Just as your Father.
We’ve all heard the next words used as a club to silence discussion: “Judge not.” Often the person saying “Judge not” is judging you for your judgmentalism. This is a corruption of the words of Jesus, and the entire Scripture. Jesus makes all kinds of judgments, telling us not to call anyone a fool, not to look at women with eyes of lust, not to push for our own advancement; and positively He tells us to share our goods, to pay our taxes, to welcome the stranger, and on and on.
So there must be something larger going on. Every Lord’s Day we confess that Jesus will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead. Here’s how Jesus in one place describes the judgment.
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory … He will … say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
“Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” [Mt 25:31, 41-46]
So there is a judgment. The mission of Jesus is to free us from it: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” [Jn 3:17]. How can both be true? How can there be a judgment, and yet Jesus is the savior from judgment?
There are two parts to that answer. One part is the cross of Jesus. Since God is just, He does not look the other way at evil; He cannot ignore sin. Jesus steps into our judgment, and says, “I will be the sin-bearer, I will be the scapegoat, I will take man’s judgment on Myself.” The Bible calls this justification, the way that mankind gets justified, or declared righteous. Here’s how St. Paul explains it: “God demonstrates … His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” [Rom 3:25f].
So what’s faith? Faith is trusting that God means what He says, that in Jesus sin is judged. That’s one part.
The other part goes with it, by confessing that you are the sinner who deserves judgment. God’s Word tells us that’s how we prepare to go to communion, by judging ourselves. 1 Cor. 11 says,
Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. [1 Cor. 11:28-31]
That’s the light we need for applying today’s Gospel about judging to ourselves. When we see that we deserve God’s judgment, how can we judge other sinners? When we acknowledge we stand under God’s condemnation, how can we condemn someone else in the same situation?
This Gospel shows us God’s character. He is merciful. That’s the ground of the whole passage: “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Just as your Father.
Lutherans often talk in terms of Law and Gospel; the Law condemns, the Gospel forgives. That’s helpful in understanding salvation, and we should always look for that distinction when reading the Bible.
But there’s more to the story. An important doctrine in Lutheranism is called the New Obedience. It describes how a Christian lives. We trust in Christ as our Savior; now, how do we live? That’s what this long, green season of Sundays after Trinity is about. It’s teaching us how we walk as Jesus’ disciples.
You can see that theme in the Gospel reading: “A disciple is not above his teacher.” Jesus is teaching us how to be His disciple. He is guiding us toward a life not centered around scoring points, winning elections, or putting our own rights first. The disciple of Jesus shows mercy and forgives, because that’s what our God is like.
We’re not like that, not yet. But we pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit to be healed, or restored, to what a human being was meant to be. Healed or restored is a better way of translating what Jesus says here: “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” Perfectly trained is better rendered restored or mended. The word gets used for repairing fishing nets, or setting broken bones. That’s humanity: shattered bones, torn nets – not what God created us to be.
But Jesus has come to forgive us and also to heal us. Let’s all pray for that healing this week. Please pray with me that today’s Gospel would change our hearts and lives: Father, be merciful to us and make us merciful; Jesus, by Your blood cleanse us from all sin and make us truly Your disciples; Holy Spirit, restore us, mend us, make us new. Amen.