Beloved. Today’s Gospel contains a verse that is so often misused and misapplied that its incorrect interpretation is regarded as correct—and that verse, of course, is: Do not judge, and you will not be judged. People will whip out this verse whenever they do not want anyone to point out to them their sin and their wrong. It is used to shut up and bring to shame anyone who dares to think and apply an absolute standard of right and wrong. How beautifully this verse—when it is misapplied—fits with our age that wants no standards of right or wrong, where everyone does what they want, where freedom is considered the ability to do whatever I want. Notice that when this verse is misapplied like it so often and readily is today, that God is put out of the picture and each person becomes his/her own god who cannot be judged by another. Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Dear Christian, do not get pulled into this way of thinking. We must be very careful here because all around us we are being inundated with the world’s message that the greatest virtue is tolerance—in its most warped sense that everything every person does and thinks must be accepted as right and normal. After all, Do not judge, and you will not be judged. And then this sort of thinking seems to have our Lord’s imprimatur by the very words that He speaks in our text: Do not judge, and you will not be judged. So what gives; how are we to make sense of this?
The first rule of thumb is perhaps cynical but proves to be true more often than not; and the rule is this: if the world/ masses latch on to a word of our Lord, it is more than likely misinterpreted. Because why? As St. Paul writes [1 Co 2.14]: the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. Without the Holy Spirit we cannot know the things of God; the Holy Spirit teaches us. When the world/ the unbelievers/ the ones without the Holy Spirit tell us that we have to be “tolerant” and accept every sort of deviancy and then try to shame us into that view by whipping out our Lord’s words to use against us: Do not judge, and you will not be judged, we must reject its interpretation and refuse to be cow towed into submission.
The other rule of thumb is to look at the context—both immediate and Scripture as a whole. When Jesus says Do not judge, and you will not be judged, is He really saying that any and every sort of judging is prohibited? Right after today’s text, Jesus tells us that a tree is known by its fruit: A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. So yes, there are standards of right and wrong/ good and evil. And then right after that Jesus says that there are things that we must believe if we are to be saved, comparing it building a house on a firm, solid foundation: Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them…is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. Again, absolute standards of what is to be believed and done! Therefore we are to judge and test, just as the Holy Spirit writes through the apostle [1 Jn 4.1]: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God.
It is abundantly clear from the whole context of what surrounds our Lord’s words, Do not judge, and you will not be judged, that the point He is making is not that we do not hold to right and wrong so that everything goes; instead, what Jesus is warning us against is unjust and hypocritical judging. He is warning us of us setting up our own standards and judging others according to that. He does not want us to be so quick to come to evil thoughts about/ jump to conclusions about someone’s actions; He does not want us making someone’s small weaknesses, even their sins of weakness into something huge.
This is something that we as Christians must be especially on guard against. It is one way that the devil uses our Christianity against us and leads us into the sin of self-righteousness. As we strive to do the Lord’s will, we see all the more how others fail to do it. We, still having our old sinful nature, are then enticed by the devil to pat ourselves on the back all the more as we see how terrible/ awful the other person is. What we do by this unjust and hypocritical judging that Jesus here warns us about, is that we put ourselves in God’s place; we pass sentence without any authority to do so; we usurp God’s authority.
So what is the antidote to this? How do we resist the urge/ temptation to judge the other? It is a matter of keeping foremost in our hearts and minds God’s mercy to us, that glorious divine mercy that we ourselves have experienced and still continually experience. Jesus puts it all into the proper perspective in the very first words of our text: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful; and then what? –Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
That glorious divine characteristic of mercy is to mark the life the Christian. And why? Our Father is merciful. Just as a child will resemble its parents, shouldn’t we resemble our heavenly Father? After all, we have the Holy Spirit, in fact the Holy Triune God Himself, dwelling in our hearts. He is in us, leading us, guiding us, empowering us. Shouldn’t His characteristics, like mercy, come to characterize our life? And when we partake of Holy Communion, aren’t we receiving Jesus and uniting with Him? How can we then not be merciful? He’s merciful; He is in us and we are in Him. As our Lord’s dear children, born from above in the waters of holy baptism, God’s goodness and mercy will be reflected in our lives. If they are not, must we not then question whether we are really His children? Are we truly united with Him by faith if this great characteristic of His, mercy, is lacking in us?
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. One definition/ description of mercy is that mercy is love to those in distress, to those who need help. What great mercy God showed us! What great love God showed to us in our distress of sin, death and condemnation! The Father saw our wretched state that because of our sin and rebellion against Him nothing but death and hell awaited us. That’s why He sent His Son to this world to be our Savior. The Son showed us great love in our distress as He willingly did His Father’s bidding and came into this world, becoming true man, enduring the worst the world could throw at Him, enduring the curse, punishment and death for our sins all to reconcile us sinners to the holy God. In great love for us sinners, the Holy Spirit comes to us in the word and sacrament to create faith in our hearts to receive Jesus’ gifts He won for us on the cross—forgiveness of sin, life and salvation. This is God’s mercy—His love to us in our distress. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
In the same way, when we recognize how much need we have of God’s mercy and that as His dear children we reflect His mercy, instead of merely sitting back judging and condemning others, we mourn over them. Their sins are a cause for us to mourn, not a cause for us to slander and gossip against them, not a cause for us to pass sentence on them and by that making ourselves look good in our eyes in comparison and so confirming ourselves in our self-righteousness.
Not only is God’s mercy an example to us for our mercy but it is the foundation of our mercy. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. We do not want to be judged—by God. Why then would we want to judge others in an unloving, hypocritical way? This recognition of our sin and our need for God’s mercy to us leads us to be merciful to others and not judging them. Our need for God’s continual mercy keeps us humble in our thoughts, words and deeds toward others. This is why a life of daily self-examination of our own hearts and lives is so vital as by it we see our sins and our need for God’s mercy. Let us daily remember our baptism by daily repentance and contrition and then with the hand of faith reclaim the gifts of forgiveness of sin, life and salvation God gave us in baptism as we receive and hold fast the holy absolution. Notice Jesus’ parable at the end of text: 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. The speck in the eye of the other is something that is certainly not seen from a distance; it is like the faults/ the sins of weakness of the other. The beam is something that all can see, except the one who has it; it is person who acts according to their own thinking and pleasure and do not see their own sin, the self-righteous; this is the blindness of the person judging/ making unjust, harsh and hypocritical judgments against the other.
Notice what glorious blessings come from a life of self-examination and repentance. It takes up so much of our time and energies that we don’t have the time to concern ourselves about the minor faults of others. It reminds us of our need for God’s mercy and keeps us merciful toward others. All need God’s mercy!
Does this mean that we won’t care about our neighbor and let them continue on in a life of sin? Hardly! We will want to warn our neighbor if they are caught up in a particular sin—that’s the merciful thing to do. But we will be humble doing so because we recognize our own sin and our need for God’s mercy, as St. Paul writes [Gl 6.1]: if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. We do not come as “holier-than-thou” but in love as a fellow sinner who is in need of God’s mercy.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. We cannot declare some sin a person does as something good; but we can forgive it. The very fact that we, dear Christian, are merciful is a fruit of faith. We in faith receive God’s grace and mercy to us in Jesus and rejoicing in that forgiveness we can then show mercy to our fellow sinner and forgive them their sin against us. After all, the other person’s sin against us is a small thing; our sin against God is a huge amount. God has forgiven us much, then certainly we can forgive our fellow sinners their small sin toward us.
The wonderful thing is that as we show mercy, the more the Lord, in grace, rewards us for it. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. In fact, the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you. Love, mercy and generosity go together. The blessings that God wants to give us and put into our hearts are more generous than we can receive. We receive them in faith. And as faith is exercised and gives and forgives and shows mercy, it becomes greater; and as a hand, it can receive more, or as a sack it can receive more—that good measure pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. And here is something wonderful as we forgive others and live a life of mercy, being merciful as God is merciful: in the Our Father we pray forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Jesus gives us a wonderful promise here—as we see ourselves forgiving others their sins against us, we are reminded of God’s mercy and forgiveness to us first. The more we forgive and show mercy, the more we are assured of our forgiveness from God and His mercy toward us. How glorious is that divine mercy: it’s the example for our mercy; it’s the foundation of our mercy and it’s the reward of our mercy. INJ Amen.