It’s interesting how often the bible passage I’m preaching on will pop up in different places during the week…
I opened my email on Monday morning to find a post in a Facebook group I’m part of, called Christianity discussed… it was set up by a friend from when I worked at the university… It’s a place where people can discuss Christianity and he posts a question each week to stimulate that discussion… this week it was the verse about not judging from Matthews gospel and the question that people often ask about it… does this mean we shouldn’t judge between good and evil? Is there such a thing as good judging?
I got Lee Child’s latest book ‘Make Me’ for Father’s Day… It’s one of my guilty pleasures that I’m a Jack Reacher fan… In a discussion in the story about a website that sells drugs to enable people to commit suicide in as painless way as possible a character says to Reacher … ‘Who am I too judge. They’re meeting a need.” And it for me summed up the way some use this saying of Jesus in our society today… to abdicate making moral decisions.
I had the privilege of having Steve Farrelly who runs the break club in schools in Manurewa and Glen Innes speak at our Living Well retirement seminar on Friday. Steve talked about people coming to him and asking him to pray for them. He talked of being approached by a woman who is like the community leader. Her lesbian relationship had broken up and she and her young child were needing Housing New Zealand to provide them with accommodation. She asked Steve If his God could help her? Steve's an honest guy and dmitted to us that his theology got a bit challenged by this and he wondering if God could… But decided he would not judge and would leave it up to God to decide… So said he’d pray for her. She said great let’s do it now… Steve prayed for her to get a house in the middle of a school playground with the kids swirling around them. That afternoon she got a phone call and was in a place right away. Steve says since then people have said well justmaybe Steve's God can help me... That sounds like the way people responded to Jesus revolution of grace as well doesn't it?
‘Judge not’ is one of Jesus most well-known sayings and its one that we do wrestle with understanding and applying in our lives. So this morning I want to unpack this plain talking from Jesus. How does this fit into the sermon on the plain and Jesus call to show exceptional love in light of God’s gracious offer of blessing? In what ways can we apply it in our lives that will enable us to follow his footsteps more clearly?
This may sound like rather a strange place to start but…Sometimes giving titles to sections in our Bible’s is not helpful. We can split up parts that actually go together and while the titles are there to help with understanding they can get in the way. This is one instance where it happens…. The Niv splits this off from whats gone before but in Luke Jesus teaching on “Do not judge” fits with Jesus teaching on love your enemy that we looked at last week. It’s not a new section. While Luke is a gentile and a greek, the thought structure of this sermon is very Jewish… It is a saying of Jesus. The main point is in the middle and then on either side of that is teaching that mirrors each other. In this case the central important focus is ‘be merciful just as your father is merciful… and as Joel Green summarises the command to judge not is nothing but the command to love ones enemies stated negatively ‘. It follows the same logic as Luke’s version of the beatitudes where to help people understand each blessing is mirrored in a corresponding woe. ”blessed are the poor, theirs is the kingdom of God, woe to the rich, you have already received your comfort… “ Love your enemies, do not judge.
Leading up to Jesus sermon Jesus ministry had been to show mercy and God’s blessing and liberation to people that the religious people of his day had written off as being outside and beyond the scope of who was acceptable to God, of who could be blessed by God. They had judged them… It lead Jesus revolution of grace more and more into conflict with the religious leaders of the day, in this section of his sermon Jesus is telling his disciples that they should be like their father rather than the religious leaders around them. Not to judge but to show mercy and forgiveness and generosity to all.
To judge not is not a command against discerning what is right, but not to write people off. Jesus follows it up by saying do not condemn, forgive, be generous these are all a reflection in our life of the Love that the Father has shown us in Jesus Christ. God loves us, God does not write us off, god forgives, god generously blesses … at the centre of the gospel message… God sent his only son into the world not to judge and write us off but to save us and restore us to wholeness in Christ. The mercy and justice of the father is shown most clearly in the cross. In fact In John’s gospel john says Jesus did not come to condemn but that we condemn ourselves by walking away from that great offer of grace and love in Christ. NT Wright comments on this passage by saying this is a list of instructions based on which God you believe in… a gloomy God, a penny pinching God a God who only came to make life more difficult and salvation near impossible… or a God that is gracious and generous and willing to forgive and how we live is how we reflect that belief to the people around us.
There is a wonderful picture here of the generosity of God in showing mercy…in this passage. Where Jesus uses the picture of a grain merchant in the market place who is not only not stingy but unfair to himself in his generosity. Grain merchants would use a measure to sell to the public. The picture here is of a grain merchant not just being willing to fill a container but after it has been filled to the top pressing the grain down to make sure that the air pockets and spaces between the grains are compressed so the container is full, but more than that instead of simply then filling it to be level with the top continues to pour out more until it is heaped up and spilling down the sides. This is the generosity that God shows, and this is how we too should show generosity and love to others. Rather than to be stingy with God’s love and limit it to those we judge as being deserving of God’s kindness and ours.
We find it hard to deal with the way that Jesus says we will be treated in the same way as we treat others in this section. If we see this section of the sermon mirroring Jesus earlier teaching on love your enemies then to judge least you be judged is a negative application of 'do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. It is true that the person who is harsh and critical in the treatment of others will find that people are likely to treat them in the same way, likewise generosity and kindness can be contagious. It hard to say it but also to judge and not love and not forgive just might be like holding a mirror up that shows we do not have the love of God in our hearts’.
Jesus follows this further reflection on loving ones enemies with two parables. They are part of another section of his sermon looking at choosing carefully which teacher you will follow, but they help us to understand Jesus teaching on not judging. They both have to do with spiritual eyesight. The blind leading the blind and someone trying to remove a speak from someone’s eye without being aware of a log in their own. We’ll look at them a bit more fully next week, but they speak to us of the fact that to judge we actually need to have our eyes wide open and un affected by any impediment. We are limited in seeing the outside of human beings or just the little bit they will allow us to see of who they really are, but God looks on the heart and sees the all and is still merciful and generous and kind. We look with very human eyes and categories and understanding, but God who is merciful looks and see all, sees with the eyes of Christ.
Ok how does that work itself out in the world today… I’ve thought of that mainly in terms of our celebrating humanity as God’s creation today… a couple of big scale things…
… One of the ways we judge each other in the world today is along racial lines… This passage speaks to us in a world where we wrestle with racism and racial stereotyping that in God’s kingdom we are to show exceptional love. The church is to be a place where all are welcomed and valued… It is one of the biggest challenges for us in our increasingly multi-cultural twenty first century how we can be a truly multi-cultural family together. It is going to take not judging, forgiveness, generosity of spirit and resources, dominant cultures learning to give away space and time and power. It’s a jounrey I think we are just starting along and we can’t afford to live in a city or society where Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week…
Secondly, We are called in scripture to make moral judgements weather something is right or wrong. In some cases that is a hard and exacting and challenging process. We can find ourselves going against the flow of popular belief and society as a whole. But that does not mean that we do not show kindness and compassion and seek justice for people we disagree with or believe do those wrong things. Gay marriage is one such issue for me at the moment… I believe that God’s design for the expression of human sexuality is within the confines of a loving mutual marriage between a man and a woman, but I am pleased to see that we have addressed some of the injustices those in long term same sex relationships faced. That they can be recognised as next of kin…that they share some of the benefits and the responsibilities that we have in our secular democratic society. It is a hard road as well but we are called to journey with people with some sex attraction in what it means to be a follower of Jesus and true brothers and sisters in Christ… It is a journey I think we are only beginning a church in western society to walk. It is a road of sacrificial love, it one that will call us to put into practise as a church that wise saying…In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things love.
Lastly, I found this wonderful line drawing by Peter Berkin called ‘Eyes wide open’ which he graciously allows people to use and copy which sums up Jesus teaching about loving enemies and not judging in terms of our vision. That we view people with love in our eyes… no not that batter your eyelids, pupil expanding stare for a long time and longingly into someone’s eyes, with a goofy smile on your face and that pounding, pounding in your heart.... your breath getting heavier... as you lean in and... well not that kind of love in youeyes rather the lens of the exceptional love God has shown us in Christ. I am always aware that we have tactile learners amongst us, so I’m going to invite us to finish today with an illustration of what this means. I’d like to invite you to make some binoculars with your hands shaped like a heart and to look through it. We don’t judge because we look with the love of Christ. WE don’t write off but show exceptional love no exceptions… we show kindness, forgiveness and generousity as we would want to be shown, as God has shown us...