Judging or Mercy

Today’s gospel is from Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, Luke 6:36-38. Typically the exegetical break is to include Luke 6:27-36 together with Luke 6:37 beginning a new thought. Not that they are not connected, but nonetheless a new train of thought.

27 “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.29 To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.30 Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.34 If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit (is) that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount.35 But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.36 Be merciful, just as (also) your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27–36)

In Luke 6:35–36, Jesus summarizes the message of vv 27–34 by repeating the triplett of love, doing good, and lending/giving, and by contending that all three must be exercised freely, without calculation, without expectation of return. It is a way of practicing mercy in order to come merciful in our own habit and character.

But as mentioned, exegesis aside, there is a connection. Perhaps the opposite of being merciful is judgment.

37Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.38 Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:37–38)

The verses borrow imagery from the marketplace to show the extravagant generosity of God, now compared to a merchant who is neither stingy nor fair to himself but excessively fills the measuring vessel. The practices Jesus outlines follow immediately and grow out of the practices of God (vv 35–36). Just as the merciful God does not predetermine who will or will not be the recipients of his kindness, so Jesus’ followers must refuse to “judge”—that is, to prejudge, to predetermine who might be the recipients of their graciousness. This is nothing but the command to love one’s enemies.

And then we come to the common accusation: judgment against others – at least in the modern sense of the way we use the word. “I need to stop being so judgmental.” People are pretty quick to confess that as sin…but is it? At a technical level, not always, but very often, the New Testament word “judge” (and its derivatives) refers to our ultimate fate: heaven or perdition. I suspect very few modern people are thinking about ultimate fates when they “judge” someone. Most likely they are “drawing a conclusion” about an observed behavior.

The question is whether the “conclusion” is unwarranted. We all come with our considerable experience in life and with people. We know mean behavior when we encounter it.  You see it enough in the same person and it is not too far a stretch to conclude they are a rather mean person. Have you judged the person? At a preliminary level I would think not if you are being as objective as possible. Is it a sin? Not yet…

At this point it is definitely temptation and fortunately I would suggest all temptation is surrounded by grace. Perhaps your conclusion is wrapped around the desire to talk to the person and point them to a better path. Perhaps you take the grace and commit to praying for the person. The grace, whatever form it takes, is a mercy to you and gets you one step closer to being merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful (v.36).

Of course you can ignore the grace, accept the temptation and most likely sin against charity as you gossip about the person, as you announcement your judgment upon them and to them.

Either way, “…the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.


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