Luke 6:32-41: “Be Merciful”
October 28, 2018
Lately I’ve been asking myself and a few others, “Who are today’s tax collectors and sinners and who are today’s Pharisees and Sadducees?” The Pharisees and Sadducees had a good idea gone bad. They wanted everyone, themselves included, to keep the Law of Moses. The exile in Babylon had at least on the surface cured the nation of worshipping idols made by human hands and resolved forever that there was only One God worthy of their worship. But in their attempt to insure that everyone kept the Law they built a hedge of protection around Moses’ Law. In Malachi 3:6-12 God told the nation through the prophet they were “robbing God” and “under a curse” because they “have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them.” The specific example the Lord gives them in that context is that they are not tithing, which is giving 10% of their income to the Lord for the prosperity of the nation itself and their individual worship of God in particular. God promised them if they tithed He would “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Acting upon this promise, Jesus identified the hedge they built around the general principle of tithing thusly: “you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin” (Matthew 23:23). We don’t live in a predominantly agricultural society any more so Jesus’ words don’t translate that well into our minds. Today’s Pharisees and Sadducees wouldn’t want us to go through our pantry and bring 10% of it to church. Today the argument goes more like, “Do I owe God 10% of my gross income or my take home pay? Do I owe God 10% of any money I receive outside of my paycheck?” The NT reality is that the command to tithe no longer applies under the new covenant. Paul spells out the “NT tithe” in Romans 12:1: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” God wants all of us and all we have willingly offered to Him “in view of God’s mercy.” God has given us eternal life with Him. Anything we hold in our hands in this world should be held loosely. This was also Jesus’ charge to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees: “you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24).
The principle that is common to Paul’s words in Romans 12 and Jesus’ words in Matthew 23 is “mercy.” Mercy is defined for us in today’s text, Luke 6:32-42, in this manner: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (v36). And just as God’s command to tithe in Malachi came with a corresponding blessing, Jesus’ command to be merciful also comes with a promise: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). In Luke 6:32-42 the principle of our treating others with the same level of mercy that God has shown us in sending Jesus to pay our sinful debt and offering us an eternal life in His coming kingdom should be reflected in all of our relationships. We are to (1) “love our enemies;” (2) not judge or condemn any person; and (3) forgive others and ourselves. Mercy is to govern all of our relationships.
So what does it mean to show mercy to our enemies? It means always returning good for evil no matter how they treat us. We have no excuse to act in any other way. Our response to life’s events should always reflect the character of our Heavenly Father. God is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (35) so we should be as well. We are to channel God’s love and show God’s mercy in our treatment of others. We are to do this without expecting those who receive our merciful responses doing anything in return (v34).
So what does it mean to not judge or condemn another person? Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (vv41-42). Judgment starts in the mirror. Jesus said, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” In the next chapter Luke recounts the events that occurred when a Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to dinner. During this dinner “a woman in that town who lived a sinful life…stood behind [Jesus] at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them” (7:37-38). Simon judged Jesus not to be a prophet because Jesus allowed a sinful woman to touch him. Jesus proceeds to tell a Simon a parable about two people who owed money to a moneylender. One owed about 1.5 years of his salary and the other about 1.5 months. Neither could pay their debt and both were mercifully forgiven their corresponding debts. Then Jesus asked Simon, “Now which of them will love him more?” The way Jesus framed the question is interesting. Jesus used the word “love” instead of “grateful.” At first glance it appears to be a stretch. Can a debtor love a moneylender? We might use the word love, like “I love you, I love you” if all of our credit card charges were refunded from any 6 week or 18 month period, but would we really mean we “love” our credit card company? Would we be loyal to them in the future? Would we be hoping or expecting it to happen again? Would we be a little upset if they did it two years in a row prompting us to spend a lot on that credit card the third year only to find out they didn’t refund our money that third year? How many years would they have to refund our money before we came to expect them to refund our money and begin to take it for granted? I’ll come back to this in a minute.
Simon accepted Jesus’ love-phrased question and answers, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven” (v43). Jesus told Simon he “judged correctly” and then compared the woman’s actions toward Jesus to Simon’s own actions toward Jesus. Jesus concludes, “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (v47). If judgment starts in the mirror, we have to both see ourselves clearly and forgive ourselves. Seeing ourselves clearly means we must understand the depth of our sin and the correspondingly greater mercy God has shown in forgiving us our debt. If we don’t read Scripture, we will not see ourselves as “sinners.” Our current culture’s definition of sin has roughly become “not hurting someone else.” We mean we are free to do whatever we want as long as we don’t hurt someone else. Our culture has sacrificed the absolute character of God for a sliding scale of injuries. That makes it easy to see ourselves as “sinning little.” Within the Evangelical movement we battle against “cheap grace” and “easy forgiveness.” We offer forgiveness like telemarketers call. If we know our credit card money is going to be returned, we spend without fear. If we know our sins will be forgiven, we’ve adopted the phrase, “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.” So we act and if our actions are “sinful” we expect we will be forgiven.
So I return to my original question, “Who are today’s tax collectors and sinners and who are today’s Pharisees and Sadducees?” and add “What’s the plank in our own eye?” If our standard is the OT Law of Moses then we will be guided by a few principles, but pay attention primarily to case laws. We will stand outside of the American culture when it suits us and swing the Bible like a hammer against those who offend our particular sensibilities. Inside the church we will teach and try to live by a set of rules around which we too will build a hedge. If an act has the potential for harm, we will do everything we can to insure those we love will never approach that harmful activity. When we inside the walls fail, however, we will forgive to a point, but condemnation will threaten continued or “big sins.” However, if our standard is “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” we will live in a different way. Jesus accurately assessed the sinful woman and Simon. In that sense Jesus ‘judged’ them and their actions. Jesus never denied the woman’s prior activities, but Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (7:50) He made no such promise to Simon.
We give mercy by letting sinful people touch us. Simon was offended that Jesus let the sinful woman touch Him. Let me ask yet another series of questions. When was the last time you cried or were deeply moved when a person you didn’t know and wouldn’t want your son or daughter to date was hurting? Everyone has a story and as long as they are alive their final chapter hasn’t been written. If we are to love our enemies and do good to them, can’t we at least let them into our hearts and minds? Can’t we let their stories move us when we still don’t agree with the choices they are making and the direction they are heading? When they live and act and make choices outside of our comfort zone, can we still be moved to tears by their hurts? Do they have to change or take steps in our direction before we can love them? Do they have to accept or even try to live by our standards before we will die for them? Remember Paul’s words: “But demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Before we leave this sanctuary this morning I hope and pray all of us will see ourselves as tax collectors and sinners. If God Himself decides to send us those who are tax collectors and sinners in different ways than we are, will we throw open our hearts and our lives to them? Do we know how to love beyond our limits? Are we willing to learn? Things are still pretty comfortable in Evangelical America. I can’t imagine God will continue to bless our comfort forever. I hear the clock ticking.