"Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." What does it mean to be merciful? Jesus tells us, "Judge not, condemn not, forgive, and give. This is how you show mercy.
"Judge not." Because this statement of our Lord is so grossly misused, let us first examine what it does not mean. Jesus does not here forbid all types of judging. It would be absurd to say that a judge and jury cannot pass judgment in court. No society would survive such a practice. Parents too must judge. A mother, who catches her teenager returning home at 3 AM reeking of alcohol can't simply shrug and say, "Who am I to judge?" So those, who are given the proper authority to judge must still carry out their God given duties!
In fact, Jesus commands all Christians to judge. In Luke chapter 12 our Lord says, "Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right" (vs 57) and in John 7 Jesus says, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment." (vs. 24) Christians must judge themselves according to God's Word to see whether they themselves are going astray. Christians must judge what is being taught to them to determine whether they are being taught the truth or lies, as Jesus warns, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Matthew 7:15) And so each Christian should pay attention to what their pastor preaches to them (and to whatever is taught them) and judge that teaching based on the truth of God's Word.
Scripture also commands that Christian congregations judge so that public and scandalous sins are not committed freely within the congregation. St. Paul writes, "But I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler- not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. 'Purge the evil person from among you.'" (1 Cor. 5:11-13)
So God commands specific authorities to judge within their jurisdiction, he commands Christian congregations to judge what is right and wrong and to address public sin, and he commands all Christians to judge between right and wrong both in what they are taught, believe and confess, and how they behave. So what does Jesus mean when he says, "Judge not and you will not be judged"?
It means don't set yourself up as a judge where God has not made you a judge. We confess in the Creed that Christ will return to judge the living and the dead. Such judgment is Christ's prerogative not ours. And yet people pass judgment all the time. A man walking down the street in the middle of the day and he's thought of as a jobless bum. People make assumptions about a young lady with young children not wearing a wedding ring.
Our judgments are harsh and they assume evidence that is invisible. "He just said that, because he thinks he's better than me." "She knew that that would upset me and she did it anyway!" "He clearly doesn't have the love of Christ in him!" Not only do we put our neighbor on trial in the most unfair kangaroo court of our minds, but we condemn! Denying them the very love of God if we could.
Imagine being put on trial without the right to an attorney or even a witness to come to your aid; no right to present any evidence to support your cause; not even the right to face your accuser! To be guilty until proven innocent and then to be condemned and have your name slandered! You'd be hard pressed to find such an unfair court in North Korea! Yet that is what you do to your neighbor when you judge him!
Do you practice such judgment and condemnations? Do you refuse to forgive? How foolish we are to act this way, and even to our fellow Christians! Oh, sure, God may have forgiven that person, but I just can't forgive him. My, my, a person may survive the strict judgment of God, but woe to him if he falls under the condemnation of Joe Shmo!
And this shows how silly it is to refuse to forgive. God sent Jesus into the world to die for all sinners. Not a one is excluded. Yet somehow the person who sinned against you can't receive God's forgiveness. How can you go to the Lord's Table to receive Christ's body and blood for your own forgiveness and join in the Communion of all Saints, yet withhold forgiveness from your brother or sister going to the same Table, to receive the same body and blood, to be united with the same Community of Saints. No, this is not right. And here we must listen to our Lord's strict warning, "But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." (Matthew 6:15)
Do not judge. If someone does you wrong, confront him as Jesus directs you in Matthew 18. If he does not repent bring witnesses and then bring the matter to the church. If you see criminal activity report it to the proper authorities. But do not pass judgments yourself or try to carry out justice yourself. As you all learned in your catechism, defend your neighbor and speak well of him and put the best construction on everything. Assume the best of your neighbor even if your gut tells you to think the worst.
This is a very important lesson for us here in this congregation. No congregation will survive if its members pass judgments and condemn each other without following Christ's strict command. If you think one of the members of this congregation or the pastor has done you wrong, don't go talking about that person behind their back. Jesus says to speak with the person who sins against you first. Perhaps you can be reconciled, forgive, and live in unity, which is a beautiful thing as the Psalmist declares, "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!" (Psalm 133:1)
And why is it that we judge others anyway? Is it not to justify ourselves? But our judgments don't matter. Our condemnations will not stand on the Last Day. God judges according to his own law. And our judgments against our neighbor will not make us look any better to God. Our measurements don't matter. The only measurement that matters is God's.
When we look at God's measurement, his commandments, we should not examine our neighbor first, but ourselves. You can't take the speck out of your neighbor's eye, while you have a log protruding from your own. You must first repent of your own sins, before you can help your neighbor repent from his. The blind can't lead the blind.
When we examine ourselves according to God's law instead of our own standard our defenses give way. We cannot justify ourselves. We're forced to plead with the Psalmist, "Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you." (Psalm 143:2) We must admit that our neighbor has not offended us nearly as badly as we have offended God. God's law makes you take the Gospel more seriously. You cannot justify yourself. You cannot get to heaven by condemning others. Rather you need God to show mercy and compassion to you.
And this brings us back to the beginning of our text, "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful." The first thing you must take from this statement of Jesus is that God, your Father is merciful! He does not judge you, even though he has the right to do so. Instead of condemning you he sent his Son into the world to be condemned in your place. Jesus cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!" from the cross, so that you would not cry it in hell.
God forgives. And he doesn't wait until you're sorry enough to forgive you, as we would do to those who sin against us. He doesn't wait until we've shaped up and made amends. Rather, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Jesus was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world long before you ever acknowledge your sin.
God gives. He gives richly. Not only does he provide you with all you need to eat and drink, clothing, house and home, health, friends and family, shining his sun on you whether you love him or hate him, God gives even more generously to those who have faith in him. No, I'm not talking about earthly wealth. Jesus compares it to illegal measurements. A merchant at the market will usually be sure to not give you an ounce more flour than what you've paid for. Yet God gives you a good measure. He's the merchant that jams the flour into your jar, pressing it in so that he can fit even more in. Shaking it down and pouring more in until it spills over the top. And so does God shower you with spiritual blessings. He baptized you, pouring his Holy Spirit into you and washing you in Jesus' blood. He forgives you over and over and over again. He offers you Christ's true body and blood, a gift you didn't ask for, but you so dearly need.
With this in mind you too can be merciful. You can't find this mercy in yourself. You must find it in God through Jesus' blood and merit. God's mercy flows into you and out of you. You withhold judgment, because God withholds from judging you. You do not condemn, not only because you have no right, but also because God withholds his condemnation from you. You forgive, not by your own power, but by the power of God's forgiveness for you.
A disciple is not above his teacher. You will never be superior to Christ. But every student when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. This is not optional. You, who have received God's mercy and forgiveness through Christ must also show mercy and forgiveness to others. When you refuse to show mercy you reject Him who showed you mercy. When you refuse to forgive you deny the only saving faith. When you refuse to give to those in need, you do not show forth the love of God, as St. John writes, "But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (1 John 3:17) Yet when you show mercy, you confess the God, who shows you mercy.
And so each of us must constantly repent and return to the God, who shows mercy. Plead to your Father to forgive your unforgiving heart. Pray that God would give you the strength to show mercy and forgive. Return to your merciful Father. The Psalmist declares of him, "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities." (Psalm 103:8-10)
Your heavenly Father is much more merciful than you are. Not because he permits sin or has a less strict law than you. But because he has a compassionate heart. God's compassion led to the passion of our Lord, who won your forgiveness with his blood. There is your mercy and forgiveness. You didn't ask for it. You don't deserve it. You'll never be able to pay it back. But God gives it to you freely and joyfully. Oh how great is God's compassion on us. Let us praise him in this life and the next.