If you’re first in line to give Jesus an “atta boy!” after hearing today’s Gospel, then you are guilty of speck judging. You don’t see the beam in your own eye because you’re so blind in seeing the speck in your neighbor’s eye.
Jesus’ words are easy to understand and apply: do not judge, do not condemn, forgive, and give. Those are easy, or so they seem to be easy. The problem happens in exercising mercy in your daily life. Mercy is the cornerstone of what it means to be a Christian. God shows mercy on you in Jesus Christ. You don’t get what you deserve; Jesus takes it instead, giving you His mercy and forgiveness.
Imagine for a moment if every Christian in every congregation would practice mercy every day. Christian congregations would become paradise on earth. Every Christian would appear before the world as a bright shining light. People would literally pull the doors off the hinges of every church clamoring to get inside and partake of God’s mercy.
We talk a good game, but we don’t play a good game when it comes to exercising mercy. That is why Jesus gives blessings and curses in Luke chapter six. Christian mercy is a virtue, perhaps the best virtue of all. Christian mercy flows from Christ.
The natural heart is moved at the sight of great need for compassion. Perhaps your heart burned within you watching or hearing about the 49 dead people in Orlando, Florida last Sunday. People lined up to give blood for complete strangers. Beyond the usual political bluster and civic machinations about love and hate, people do what people do to help their neighbor, whether or not they are Christians. Here we see a glimmer of what life was before the fall into sin. Though broken, the image of God remains in us. We want to help.
We want to help until our help is slighted or used against us for someone else’s advantage. Christian mercy becomes hard-heartedness, a “political, beggarly, shaggy, piece-meal mercy” as Martin Luther calls it. Ingratitude determines to whom you will show mercy. If you know the response will be good, you help. If you know you will be taken advantage of by someone, you turn your back and walk away. Let someone else feel the hurt you felt at their ingratitude.
What you see as a shrewd decision is actually ignoring the beam in your eye. You don’t get to pick and choose who is your neighbor. You don’t get to vote on whom mercy is shown. You exercise mercy to all, regardless of any prejudice. What if God showed prejudice to you by cutting you out of His plan of salvation? He plans to save all mankind, except you, because He sees and knows what you’ll do with it.
That’s not how God operates. He gives you all things, natural and spiritual, temporal and eternal, out of pure divine goodness and mercy, without any merit on your part. If he gave you what you deserve, you would have hell and damnation. Instead He gives you life and salvation. He provides clothing, food, drink, and every good thing. As God is merciful to you, you are merciful to your neighbor.
Jesus says how rendering mercy looks. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned. This is a hard saying of Jesus often misused by many people. There are those given to judge: magistrates, the ruling authorities, preachers, parents, and other superiors are given to judge. God sets up society this way for the sake of law and order. What Jesus means here is judgment and condemnation that comes from a self-righteous disposition and elevation over the neighbor.
The Germans have a word that we don’t have in the English language that captures self-righteous judgment and condemnation of the neighbor. The word is “schadenfreude“, joy in bad things. We catch ourselves saying, “What goes around comes around.” That’s an example of schadenfreude. We love to watch people get their just desserts when they make a mistake. The more public the person, the more embarrassing the situation, the greater the schadenfreude.
Schadenfreude is something the old Adam loves to have in his arsenal against the neighbor. Social media only makes it worse. A day rarely goes by when at least one moment of schadenfreude happens on Facebook or Twitter. Can you imagine Noah’s drunken moment today with social media? Tens of thousands of people would demand his sons drop the cloak that covered his shame in order to see his nakedness and make Noah a spectacle. The opposite of schadenfreude is pity. You are given to take pity in your neighbor’s sins, cover them with the cloak of love, speak well of your neighbor, and explain everything in the kindest way.
Jesus also says forgive, and you will be forgiven. You can never be so greatly offended that you shouldn’t forgive not only seven times, but seventy times seven, and even more than that number. You don’t let the sun go down on your wrath. Not only is that good marital advice for husbands and wives, it’s also great advice for us when it comes to our neighbor. Perhaps you have caught yourself praying the Lord’s Prayer and wanting to mumble past the phrase forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. You can’t pray that in good conscience if you don’t forgive your neighbor as Christ forgives you in shedding His blood for your sake.
Jesus then says give, and it will be given to you. Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan comes to mind. The man does good from his necessity to a Jew, his mortal enemy, with the risk of his own life. After all, our Father in heaven makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
You are in the same condition as your neighbor. You are a sinner. You deserve everlasting death because of your disobedience to God and to neighbor. The Lord despises a speck judger who doesn’t see the beam in his own eye. Yet He does not cast them into the deepest pit of hell because of who they are. His Son, Jesus Christ, dies for their sin and is raised that they may have life with Him. God works repentance toward the forgiveness of sins. Christ’s work on your behalf is the foundation for every good work you do, especially the work of mercy toward your neighbor. In Christ you are judged worthy of eternal life and not condemned. You are forgiven. He gives you every good and perfect gift, especially the gift of mercy shown to others that you give in Christ’s name.
Do not fear. The Lord provides. You, in turn, will provide for others as all things are provided for you. That’s the cycle of mercy according to Jesus. When your mercy for others fails, His mercy for you never fails. Believe it for His sake.