Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Mercy is not giving someone what they deserve. It means that you know exactly what this person has done. You know what they deserve—if all things were right and fair. You know. Yet you choose instead to show mercy to them. You forgive them. You pay the debt yourself. You don’t give them what they deserve. So when Jesus says, “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful,” He is first of all giving us the Law. Do this. Be merciful. This is the Law. Jesus knows perfectly well that you are not merciful. You are full of judgment and hatred toward your fellow human beings. How many times have you sat in the pew right where you sit now and sat in so-called righteous judgment over your fellow Christians next to you? “Well, at least I’m not like them.” How many times have you looked at other people secretly with contempt, knowing that you are really a better Christian than those ones who don’t do as much, or don’t come to church as much, or whose life is a mess, or who have created some kind of scandal, or whatever it may be.
What Jesus is really getting at in our text is the Eight Commandment. “You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor.” Luther reminds us what this means: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” That’s easy to say, but it’s terribly hard to put into practice. Be merciful. Don’t give into your evil desires! Don’t sit in judgment over others. Many people believe that they are not really poor miserable sinners. Looking at this commandment and what it means reminds us all that we are all unkind and even cruel toward the people we claim to love the most. When it comes to mercy, we are most often unmerciful and just plain evil at times toward our own family. How often have you lashed out at your spouse or one of your children? How often have you kept score with your siblings or held a grudge toward a relative or friend, knowing that sooner or later you would get them back? Every time you take it out on your spouse because you know they’ll take it, you forget mercy.
This is what Joseph’s brothers feared when their father, Jacob, died. In Genesis we hear of how Joseph’s brothers believed that once Jacob was dead, they would get their just desserts. They had sold Joseph into slavery, lied about him and had treated him worse than their worst enemy. Yet Joseph showed them mercy. Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” This is what Jesus is talking about when He says, “Judge not lest you be judged.” What he is saying is that none of us stand in the place of God. It is not your job to stand as judge, jury and executioner over your fellow Christians. That is God’s place. Your job is to defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. Your place in life is to cover up the sins of your family and friends, and even your enemies. Your place as a Christian is to remember that all are poor miserable sinners, and you are simply being a liar by claiming to be better than anyone else.
Now this is often misunderstood. Do not judge unless you wish to be judged. Many take that to mean that we may never condemn sin or say anything is right or wrong. “Well, they’re living together before marriage. It’s not what I think is right, but who am I to judge?” “Gossip is wrong, but I’ve certainly gossiped before. How can I condemn someone for that?” The problem is that this confuses what Jesus is saying. What Jesus is condemning is a double standard. You can’t hold others to a higher standard than you yourself hold. And what is the standard by which all are judged? The standard is God’s holy law, not our own petty rules. And God’s holy Law does not bend. All stand condemned before God’s Law, which we all break time and time again.
So what is Jesus talking about when He says, “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful”? The point of this text is that the Father in heaven is merciful. We judge each other on the basis of our limited vision. We look and see what we don’t like in someone else, and we condemn him for it. But your Father in heaven knows all and sees all. There is nothing hidden from his sight. There is no sin that goes unnoticed, no misdeed that is lost. He knows all your faults and shortcomings, down to the very end.
Still, He is merciful. He doesn’t give you what you deserve. He doesn’t give you death. Instead, He gives you the very opposite. He gives you life. Now this life that the Father gives by mercy isn’t just any life. It is eternal life. It is His life, rich and full of blessing. It is a life washed clean of every stain of sin in Holy Baptism, which allows you to stand before God as His redeemed child.
Now what does this mean for you in the real world? It means everything. It means that this is a place where you receive the one thing you need more than anything else: mercy. Here your troubles are not glossed over or held up as a spectacle. No, here in this place our heavenly Father gives you this great gift of mercy, so that your sins are washed away forever. Perhaps this seems like old news to you. “We’ve heard this before, pastor. Why don’t you get to something more useful?” My brothers and sisters in Christ, mercy never goes out of date. Just like the love of God, His mercy knows no boundaries, and it delivers you the peace of God that all desire. This is why we may sing with the Psalmist: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.