July 1, 2012
Emmanuel Lutheran Church—Dwight, IL
Revised July 13, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Mind the grammar. It’s a statement that would make my seventh grade teacher smile warmly—she’s the one who taught me how to diagram sentences, the difference between an independent and a subordinate clause, and that an adverb can modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Martin Luther once wrote that grammar was the servant of Holy Scripture. God chose to reveal Himself and His will to us with words, and words work because of grammar. It’s important to mind the grammar when you read Holy Scripture.
Today’s Gospel begins with a string of imperatives. Imperatives are verbs that command. It’s like the game “Simon Says.” You know how to play: Simon says, “Jump,” and you’re supposed to jump. It’s a command. But commands come in all shapes and sizes. Simon could say, “Jump,” or he could say, “Start jumping.” As the leader sees the players begin to tire, Simon may say, “Keep jumping,” but if the leader says, “Stop jumping,” without Simon saying it, everyone who obeys that command is out.
“[Jesus said:] ‘Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (v 36). Sometimes the Greek grammar doesn’t come into English clearly. The force of what Jesus says here is more than a simple command. He says that it’s time to start being merciful, even as the Father is merciful. You aren’t yet living as if you believe that you have a heavenly Father who is rich in mercy. Rather, by your actions—especially the way you treat your neighbors—you are living as if you expect the Father to reward you for your good works and only punish you for your bad works.
So He continues, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned” (v 37a, b). Our English translation implies that if we don’t judge or condemn, then we won’t be judged or condemned ourselves. But let’s mind the grammar. Here’s a clearer translation: Stop judging, and be not judged! Stop condemning, and be not condemned! Christ says that you are not judged according to your works, you are not condemned on account of your sins, so be that way. Stop judging others and condemning others. That’s the way of the Law, to measure someone according to the goodness of his works and the wickedness of his sins. The way of the Father—the way of mercy—is to judge you according to Christ, and for the one who trusts and is baptized in Him, there is no condemnation.
So, “forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you” (vv 37c, 38a). In place of judging, start forgiving; in place of condemning, start giving. Do you want to be forgiven? Then forgive! Do you want to receive from God? Then give to others!
Christ’s imperatives reveal our false perception of our heavenly Father. We expect Him to work by way of the Law—to have a ledger of our deeds and sins, and to judge us according to it. These imperatives are a call to repentance, to put away the old way, the natural way, the way of the Law. At the same time they are an invitation to live the way the Father has remade you, to live in the freedom of the Gospel, to live in your Baptism.
There is no possible way for you to do this on your own, but the forgiveness you extend to others is supplied by the forgiveness the Father will give you; what you give to other will be given to you by the Father. “…forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you” (vv 37c, 38a).
How does the Father give? “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap” (v 38b). He begins with a good measure. He doesn’t measure out His gifts by the teaspoon, but by the gallon. When it’s filled to the top, He presses it down to fit more in. When it’s pressed down, He shakes it together to find out if there’s more room. And when all possible empty space is exhausted, He tops it off to overflowing. One of the greatest statements in our Lutheran Confessions is from the Smalcald Articles: We will now return to the Gospel, which does not give us counsel and aid against sin in only one way. God is superabundantly generous in His grace (SA III.IV).
All these gifts are “put into your lap,” Jesus says. Here is a tough translation. The word Jesus uses is a cultural word that doesn’t have a direct correlation in our Western culture. A kolpos is what’s formed when a long tunic is bloused out over a belt or girdle. It wasn’t only a fashion statement, but it also doubled as a convenient way to carry odds and ends. Think of it as an ancient backpack.
Presumably, one could carry more or less based on the size of his or her kolpos. Jesus says that the gifts of the Father are placed in your kolpos, because “with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (v 38c). That’s to say, if your measure is small, your portion will be small.
Imagine a widow in a small town, perhaps about the size of New Haven. She loves Halloween and seeing the kids dressed up. She’s also got a huge pile of candy each year and develops a reputation of filling Halloween sacks to the brim. The kids who wise up, what kind of sack do they bring?
Jesus is saying that if you approach God with a teaspoon, you’ll get a teaspoon of His gifts. Better to approach Him on empty and be filled with His grace. With the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.
Jesus concludes with a parable. “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone, when he is fully trained, will be like his teacher. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye” (vv 39-42).
There’s a woman by the name of Joyce Meyer. You may have heard of her before. She’s one of the popular evangelical TV preachers. What’s unique about Ms. Meyer, though, is that she used to belong to an LCMS church. A few years back, I heard an interview with her on the LCMS radio program, Issues, Etc., and when she was asked about why she was no longer Lutheran, she said it had to do with sin. And I’ll never forget her words: she said, “I am not poor, I am not miserable, and I was a sinner.” You see, she had overcome sin in her life and now makes a pretty penny off of motivating others to do the same.
Her problem, and so many like her (I only chose her because of her former connection to our church body), is that they are disciples who believe themselves to be above the Teacher. They have successfully turned the faith into the business of speck removal. They see specks in their neighbors’ eyes because they believe that only specks can get in eyes. That is to say that they consider sin to be a very small, insignificant irritation that pops up from time to time.
Somehow Ms. Meyer became convinced that she was only a middling sinner. Mediocre misdeeds overcome with a little self-discipline. I believe that she’s not the only member of an LCMS church to think that way. We Lutherans pride ourselves on our humility, ready to admit with hands solemnly raised that, of course, we’re sinners. But then we outdo ourselves in showing how small and insignificant our sins really are.
Christ did not take on human flesh and empty Himself of His divine majesty in order to rescue us from irritating specks and middling sins. He came to deal with the logs in each of our eyes.
I try to imagine what a log in the eye looks like. It’s a gruesome picture. In fact, if a log is thrust in your eye, loss of sight is probably quickly followed by loss of life. But that’s really the good news. Christ became man to take the logs out of both of your eyes, so that He could fasten them together into a cross, and die with you.
If you only count your sins as small, insignificant, middling sins, the only grace you need is small, insignificant and middling grace. But Jesus shows you the depth of your sins. If the measure you use is your whole self, confessing your sins to the point of death, then the measure the Lord will gladly use is your whole self, measuring it back to you with life.
The Father is the forgiver of substantial sins. And that’s the point of today’s Gospel:
The Father’s Mercy Is for Those Who Have Need To Remove Great Sins
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard