Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, the feeding of the Four Thousand.
In the ministry of Jesus, it’s not uncommon to see Him stealing away for some time to Himself. The demands of His ministry clearly weighed on Him and He sets a great example for us in the realization that we sometimes just need to seclude ourselves from the demands of the world and take a breath. It appears that today’s Gospel lesson may actually have occurred at just one of those pauses. Here Jesus is and Mark tells us that “again a great crowd had gathered” and where are they? They are in the wilderness, in the “desolate place.” Why, we could ask, are they in a desolate place? Well, it would seem that our Lord was doing just what I’m describing, and getting some peace and quiet for prayer. Or at least He was trying, until the crowds followed Him and gathered around Him as they were wont to do. And so much for quiet rest for the Lord. Already stretched, here He was stretched again.
I think our circumstances right now are putting many of us in a similar spot. Perhaps it’s different in that since we’re shut in our homes and secluded right now, it’s not as though we can’t take some moments and really appreciate the quiet of reading God’s Word and praying—which if you’re stressed about all that’s going on right now and you’re not taking time do that, do it. Reading the Bible is something all Christians should be doing. I marvel at the knowledge of some of our older members when it comes knowing Scripture. What a blessing—something that can be intimidating for those who are younger, but know that they older folks didn’t get there overnight. Like they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But I digress. In any case, our circumstances certainly are drawing us out, aren’t they? It seems that just when we think we’ll be able to get used to one thing, something else comes along. And when we sort of acclimate to that, everything shifts and we have to rebalance. Between viruses and pestilences and unrest and dust storms and hurricanes and murder hornets this time is constantly burdening us with more stress to the point it’s easy to want to break.
A brother pastor noted this on his Facebook page this week, saying that he doesn’t expect things to get all that much better soon. It’s weighing on him. Thankfully, he noted, he knows that the reality of the situation isn’t dependent upon his thoughts and opinions, nor upon how he feels about all this. Instead, it’s reliant up on the truth of our Lord’s authority over the entirety of heaven and earth. But still it bears its weight upon our shoulders doesn’t it? In that, I think we can relate to our Lord’s need to get away that we see in the Gospel Lesson.
Or better yet, we can see that our Lord can relate to us. As we consider these people who have gone out so far to hear the teaching of Jesus, we can make an analogy to their journey home and our own journey in this life. We can see that Jesus speaks of them going on their way. He worries, “they will faint on the way.” They’re in this desolate place, and some of them “have come from far away,” and so they won’t make it if they’re not cared for. So also, we journey. We journey on the way from our first death in baptism, the death of our sin, to the death of our bodies. And that journey bears its difficult moments for us, it bears those moments where we get weighed down.
But what does Jesus say about those He sees in this state? Like I said, He can relate to us, and that’s the joy, right? What does He say? I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. I have compassion on the crowd. I mention this word with some regularity, because it gets to the heart of our Lord’s love and care for His people, but this is that word for compassion that comes from the guts. Jesus feels this compassion for these people in His guts. He sees that their journey is long, He sees that they could easily faint on the path and it pains Him. He doesn’t want their harm, He doesn’t want their demise and He feels that in His guts.
It’s interesting how the Scriptures describe emotions. Sometimes things we get emotional about or things that we get riled up about, Scripture gives insight to show that this is less than desirable. Emotionalism and raw feeling aren’t where our Lord’s desire is for us. Passions and the drive from pure emotion is to be tamed. But when it comes to the aching we have for our neighbor, when we see them suffering that’s something that should hit us in the gut, because that’s how our Lord experienced it. And you can see it because He cares enough to provide for the needs of these people.
Of course, that’s what our God does. His desire is that He would be our God and we would be His people, because as our God, His heart is to give to us, to provide for us, to care for us. Look at how you see this play out in the Old Testament. To draw a very direct parallel, think about the Israelites on their path, on their way from the Red Sea to the Promised Land—something I often point to as a picture of the Christian life: baptized in the Red Sea, cared for by God, and sustained unto life in the Promised Land, the Inheritance. And what does the Lord do for the people in the midst of that? Just as He gives bread to them in the wilderness in the Gospel Lesson, He provides bread for the Israelites. And how so? Miraculously. Manna. Appearing day in and day out. Miraculous care for them, making sure they’re provided for. Making sure their bellies will be sustained, that their shoes will not wear out and their clothes will not tatter. This is the heart of this God incarnate, “enfleshed” in Christ.
And lest we think that’s a unique circumstance, you see it again and again and again. You see it with Elijah fed by ravens. You see it with the judges and kings God gave to Israel, providing good kings after their kings would turn, or good judges redeeming the people when the people had rebelled. You see it with Daniel in the lion’s den, with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego whom He preserved in the fiery furnace. Over and over and over.
And you He provides for you. He takes your sin upon Himself on the cross. He dies for it. He provides for you the perfect life you need for eternity in heaven. And just as the wages of sin is death, He steps in front of the bullet of death in your place. He didn’t deserve the death, but He took it for you. He didn’t deserve the discomfort of this life, but He took it for you. He felt your suffering in His guts and He took it and worse that you would have an eternal home with Him in the New Heavens and the New Earth; a new life where you are raised in His resurrection. Provided for, cared for, loved for eternity.
And as I say all of this, this is eternal. If you watched my devotions this week, you heard me mention about the creation of Adam in Genesis. I spoke about how in this creation there is this man, this “living creature,” as it’s translated; nephesh in the Hebrew, or psyche in the Greek Septuagint. Why do I give you the words? Well, I mentioned the Greek because psyche is where we get the word in English, psyche and psychological. It’s also the word that’s often translated soul. So it’s easy to hear this and think this is just about the soul, about the immaterial eternal. And as I’ve been talking about this, as I said, I’ve been talking about the eternal. But that translation is great. This Adam is not just created to be an immaterial soul as we would call it. He is a living creature; a whole being body and soul. God created Adam body and soul. And in the Garden you see care for body and soul. You see the trees which sustain the body and the Tree of Life by which Adam communes with God and you see care of the soul.
As you journey in this wilderness of this broken and fallen world, He does the same for you. Just as Jesus fed those four thousand in the wilderness, He feeds you. He feeds your soul with His Word, with His forgiveness, with His body and blood in His Supper. He feeds you and sustains you with that life giving word that as you trek on day by day, hour by hour, you might be prevented from growing faint. This is why I say that about reading the Word. You’ll look around at the circumstances that will exhaust you in the worries they bring. And the Devil will try to burden you all the more with them, but the Word tells you that the sin that creates all this stress has been forgiven. It tells you that the devil who brings all this tyranny into the world, who entices man into it that man would be kept in tyranny by his own will, that devil has been defeated. He has been overcome. He’s lost. The cross has set the trap for him and the resurrection shows forth the victory. That victory, again, given to you in the Word and Sacrament to sustain you.
And yet I said you can see this care in soul and in body. In eternal and temporal. While the Word and Sacrament bring eternal care to temporary contexts—that is, they bring the eternal victory to help sustain us in this temporal life—our God still cares for our temporal needs too.
That’s something that is so comforting in this passage. You know, it’s easy to analogize this from the long journey home that these people had to take to the long journey we endure until we reach the Promised Land of God’s eternal kingdom, and that’s not wrong for us to see. However, there’s still this really comforting reality: Jesus actually gave them temporal bread for their temporal needs. Why is that so comforting? Well, in reality it’s never as comforting as the eternal promises in Jesus. But it is comforting because as we are stretched thin by things, by the goings on around us, we can fear for the needs of the body.
Think about it, how short of a time ago we were worried about the temporal needs of toilet paper and of meat shortages. Now that’s calmed, and there’s all this unrest, which if taken to the final end of those leading some of the charges could result in revolution. There would be real risk to bodily care. But Christians, Jesus fed the four thousand. Jesus had compassion on the four thousand. Jesus looked at them and He ached in His guts for them.
And so also He aches in His guts for you. He sees you and how thinly you get stretched. He knows that exhaustion and more. He knows the needs you have of food and shelter. And he knows how to ensure you get them.
As a close, I remember hearing a story when I was in college of some missionaries who had hit the point where their bank accounts were drained, they weren’t sure when they would have money to buy food again, and they weren’t sure how they were going to get by. But one evening having come home from their work they found their counter filled with groceries. The person telling me the story said the missionaries claimed that no other person knew of their need. But the Lord did, and He provided for them. Whether He did this miraculously or by natural means doesn’t matter. The reality is true. He cared for them. And He will care for you. Just as He has created you, created you, body and soul, so He will care for you, care for you, body and soul. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This morning we meditate on the gospel lesson, previously read.
I know those of you who have been around Lutheranism for a long time have heard that old go to phrase over and over of “Law and Gospel.” I know I’ve even joked about how Jessica teased me when I went to seminary that I started sounding like every Lutheran pastor she’d ever known as I would talk about this Law and Gospel distinction. And of course as we hear that in our day, it can be easy for our eyes to glaze over and we start to drift off thinking of things less abstract. Because it is fair to say that when we speak of these terms “Law” and “Gospel,” we are talking about conceptual things. We are talking about things that are not concrete. No they’re ideas, they’re abstract. This abstract idea about this Law, these commands that God speaks to us, and the abstract idea that this Law is given that we would be restrained in going too far in sin, but be helped by it to maintain some order in society. Then that this Law would come and show us our sin, also abstract. Finally, that it would tell us how we ought to seek to live our lives as Christians. All of this is very abstract. Then, the Gospel is very abstract too. This abstract idea that Jesus, who is very God in the flesh of a man, would take the punishment for sin upon Himself that we could live by His resurrection.
This is all abstract, it’s conceptual, and didactic. In our day, I think that’s hard, because we have a mindset that is grounded in concrete pragmatism. And to be a pragmatist as a Christian can be great. After all, Jesus was often pragmatic. He often would teach very concretely. Look at His parables. Those are often quite concrete. But today’s Gospel Lesson is one is very abstract in a lot of ways. It’s about concepts. So in view of that, I’m going to talk about this abstract idea of Law and Gospel in light of what Jesus says about it in the Gospel Lesson. I ask for your patience, and your effort in concentrating to follow me as I do so. I will try to make this as concrete as I can, but sometimes we have to follow our Lord’s lead in dealing with things conceptually.
So to start, I think that we need to look at what Jesus says about the Law, about God’s commands—and as we see the Old Testament reading is the Ten Commandments, we have a good opportunity to make the point that this is the epitome, the summary of God’s Law. If we want to know all that God commands, we can look there. Look at the Ten Commandments. Know them as Christians. Know the order, the numbers, learn Luther’s explanations of them from the Catechism. This is what God calls us to in His will for us. He takes it most seriously. Look, in fact, at what Jesus says: For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
So, hopefully you hear the first point I want to make here about the Law: God takes the Law seriously. He takes it so seriously that He says that if anyone lessens it, he will be called the least in the Kingdom Of Heaven. Now, to give some context, you see this was a problem for the Pharisees who were in Jesus’ hearing for the Sermon on the Mount here. We’re going to talk more about them here in a second, but you have to understand that the Pharisees were viewed as the uber-pious folks. The Jews who wanted to be faithful at that time likely were watching the Pharisees to get their cues for piety. But the problem was that they lessened the Law. On the surface it didn’t look like it. It looked like they tightened it. They added rules here and there, and made laws where God hadn’t. So, it looked like they were especially strict, but what that actually proved was the opposite. It proved that they were making less of God’s Law. How’s that? Because they were treating it like it was something you could attain. They were creating their checklists and their rules of how many steps you could take on the Sabbath so they could assure themselves that this Law of God was something they were keeping.
And this is a problem for us now too, isn’t it? Think about how many churches are out there giving series on Twelve Steps to a happy marriage. Now that’s great to give good marriage advice. It’s great to encourage healthy marriages. God has given us marriage, but when that becomes the focal point of my sermons as a pastor, I’ve ultimately missed the point of the Law. The Law isn’t given to us that we can have a happy and fulfilled life with our spouse. Don’t get me wrong, the Sixth Commandment telling me to not commit adultery goes a long way in teaching me how to love my wife, which helps to make our marriage a lot happier. But that’s not the goal. The goal finally is that we would live how our God calls us to live—which to be clear is to love. Or beyond that, the goal is to see my sin. Paul says in the letter to the Romans “No one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the Law”— that is, no one’s getting to heaven by their good works—“rather through the Law comes consciousness of sin.”
You see, now that we’re fallen in sin, God makes sure you hear His commands and He does so to the point that you would see how sinful you are and that you would turn to Jesus for help. Twelve steps to a better marriage, that’s still Law, but it’s law that’s lessened. It won’t kill you that way that it should, it won’t stab your delusions of being good enough to get to heaven right in the heart. As a professor of mine from seminary always said, it will just gum you to death. It will be slow and soft and maybe you won’t realize what it’s done till you’ve become self-righteous or despaired that you’re not following the twelve steps as well as you ought.
This is the lessening of the Law. Don’t do it. And as I say this, I haven’t forgotten to make the point that of course pretending things that are sinful aren’t is a problem too. Pretending it’s OK to harm our neighbor, or sleep around, or steal, that’s lessening the law too, but it’s a bit clearer that way. Jesus wants to make the point that we can’t lessen it to think we can attain it.
And we can see that in how Jesus doesn’t soften murder but ratchets it up to where you can’t think you’re innocent even if you’ve only spoken harshly to your neighbor in anger. We can also see it in what He says next: I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
If you remember, I just said the people saw the Pharisees as examples of piety. You can imagine, then how this would be heard. “I’ve got to be better than those guys? I’ve got to be more pious than they are? I’m in big trouble!” In our day it might be like how people often view pastors. “I’d have to be more pious than the pastor?!” Of course, if you’ve ever known a pastor well, you know that we’re not special when it comes to holiness and piety. But there’s that perception.
But what’s Jesus saying? Well, He’s making the point that because the Pharisees have lessened the Law as I was just describing, they’re not righteous as they’re called to be. We can see something similar to this today in the calls of righteous indignation that flood the internet. There is a call for a righteous standard. And portions of it align with the righteousness of God’s commands. When we hear of justice for all peoples, that’s consistent with God’s Law. But our righteousness must surpass those calling. Our righteousness in fact must far surpass that. It must align with God’s righteousness.
And here is where we’ll loop back to the purpose of the commands: to give us a mirror that shows us every last pimple on the attempts we make to stand before God as though we’ve been good enough. Who has never been angry with someone? Who has never in that anger spoken harmful words, or at the least thought them? You too stand liable to judgment. Your righteousness does not surpass that of the Pharisees.
And lest you think that it’s possible to attain this if you try hard enough, look at when the Law fights with itself. Look at how the Fifth Commandment has been at odds with itself with the Coronavirus. You want to love your neighbor? Love him by not getting him sick. Good. Now love him by caring for his needs, which God provides through economic structures. Now love him by caring for his mental health in the midst of all this. And these can’t all be done. It’s impossible the Command itself is pulling you every which direction, and you can’t always keep it.
Now you see where the Gospel comes in. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Now to be clear, Jesus is talking about fulfilling the Old Testament here. He’s making the point that He is what the Old Testament is all about. Look in your Old Testament and see it’s about Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate King David, the ultimate Moses, the ultimate and best Adam. How? Because He fulfills it all. All of those commands that we heard in Exodus 20, those commands summarized by the command to love, as Paul says, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” That command to Love, that fulfilling of the Law is found in Jesus. And it’s found where you haven’t done it.
Your righteousness is to surpass the Pharisees. It doesn’t. But His does. His does in that perfect life He lived, and it does in the death He died for your sin. The wages of sin is death. He didn’t deserve that, but in His love, He suffered that death, even the eternal death of hell on the cross, that you wouldn’t have too. That’s the perfect righteousness. That’s the perfect love. That’s the love of the Perfect Lover loving the perfectly un-loveable.
And in even more love, He gives that righteousness to you. He baptized you in it. He speaks it into your heart as He forgives your sin. He feeds it to you on your very tongue.
And in this we see this abstract concept made concrete. It’s concrete in the death of this body of Christ. It’s concrete in how He gives you this righteousness in concrete means. Word. Water. Bread and wine. And furthermore, as He gives you new life, He calls you live in the life of the commands He speaks. He calls you to this baptismal identity Paul spoke of in Romans. And that’s concrete. Love God by not having other gods, not misusing His Name, honoring preaching and His Word. And loving your neighbor, honoring authority, honoring marriage, honoring property and reputation. That’s all concrete. But it’s all Law and Gospel. And it’s all Jesus’ Word, and in His grace done for you by Him. Finished, not abolished, but fulfilled. Amen.
Saints in Christ, purchased and won from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with Christ’s holy, precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death: Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. The Inspired Word of God comes to us today from the Gospel according to St Luke chapter 5.
Considering the text for today I unofficially designated today fish lovers Sunday. I thought about making it fishermen’s Sunday, but that excluded those who like to eat fish. Some of you like fish stories, eating fish, and watching people catch fish; others do not. Today you will hear a fish story with eternal consequences.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were partners in a fishing business owned by Zebedee, the father of James and John. When you think of calling a pastor, even a second career pastor, usually you don’t think of commercial fishermen. Adjectives associated with commercial fishermen are: rough, uneducated, undisciplined, hot headed, and foul mouthed. Plus, they smell like fish. But, Jesus did unusual things. Choosing four commercial fishermen as disciples was one of them. Why did Jesus pick these guys versus recent graduates of rabbinical school? Today’s text sheds light on this.
Jesus was out and about teaching. According to Scripture a large crowd gathered. Such a large crowed that Jesus was forced to use Simon’s boat as a pulpit. The boat provided Jesus with a good position to preach from.
After the sermon Jesus told Simon to go out onto the lake and drop the net in deep water. Now this is the trust point, and the point of the miracle. Simon may not know much, but he does know a thing or two about fishing. Simon didn’t use a depth finder or a fish finder. Simon used basic fish catching knowledge. Simon knew that the best fishing was done at night, when the fish are bold and hungry and come to the shallows to feed. He knew that if you don’t catch anything at night, you may as well tend your nets and cut your losses and hope for better the next night. Simon knew it didn’t make much sense to put out into the deep during the day when you didn’t catch anything in the shallows the previous night. Simon also knew when Jesus said something it paid to listen. Simon replied: “…nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”
Throughout our lives we encounter crisis points. We face tough decisions. Many day to day choices are simple; what to wear, what to eat, what to do on a day off. Also, like Simon, must make tough choices. Usually we consult somebody concerning the more difficult choices. How often do we call out to Jesus for help? Do we trust Jesus enough to take Him at His Word, even when He asks the counterintuitive thing, the unreasonable thing, and the outrageous thing? Or, do we follow our sin tainted human reasoning? Jesus used this opportunity as a faith building lesson. If they trusted Jesus with catching fish, they would learn to trust Jesus with catching people. If they trusted Him with the little things - their livelihood, they would trust Him with the big things - forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Actually, when you think about it, it was nothing for Jesus to say, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Who needs fish finding sonar when you’re the Lord of creation? Jesus spoke the Word that created fish on the fifth day. Jesus knows where all the fish are, because He’s the Creator in the flesh. That day the fishermen learned a valuable lesson. As they pulled their filled to the point of breaking nets into the boat, more boats were called to help out. Sometime during the action Simon Peter fell down Jesus’ feet. In an act of worship and confession and Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Peter sounded a bit like the prophet Isaiah when he caught a glimpse of God on His throne in the year that King Uzziah died. Isaiah saw the Lord in His glory with the six winged seraphs flying around singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” Isaiah said, “I’m dead. I’m a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips. I’m a sinner among sinners.”
That’s how it is when you come face to face with the Lord. It’s not “shine, Jesus shine, oh we’re so happy to be here and you should be too,” it’s “Lord, have mercy, I’m a dead man.” Jesus may have looked plain and ordinary enough, like any other local in Galilee. But it dawned on Peter that there was more to Jesus than met the eye. Peter realized this when the HS made him aware of his own sin. Peter’s instant reaction was to have Jesus go away. The man who possessed the Creator’s authority over the fish in the sea was simply too much to bear. Peter understood that his sin and God’s presence were not compatible.
A miraculous catch of fish, water changed into wine, sicknesses healed with a word, and casting out demons. All were tremendous acts of love; yet, all were frightening to experience. This is how near God is to us in Jesus. Jesus knows the location of the fish, not to mention the birds and the ants. Jesus knows the number of hairs on your head, and the number of your days. Jesus knows your sin, everything you do, think, and say. Jesus knows our deepest darkest secrets. We do well to say with Peter, “Lord, depart from me. Don’t come near me. You are holy, I am anything but holy. You are God’s sinless Son, and I’m a poor, miserable sinner. You are the Lord of creation, and I am your disobedient creature.”
The most astonishing fact is that this same God of power is a God of mercy and forgiveness. God took a burning coal and burnished the lips of His prophet with words of forgiveness: “your guilt is taken away, your sin atoned for.” He called fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James, John, sinners, none of them “worthy” on their own to be His disciples. These men became Jesus’ apostles and first pastors of His church. Jesus’ two words, “Follow me,” are disciple making words. With the same words Jesus calls sinners to repentance. With the same words Jesus calls sinners to His own death and resurrection. That’s where His sheep follow Him, through death to resurrection and life. His path is their path. His life is their life. His forgiveness covers their sin. Jesus gave those fishermen a new life and a new vocation. Jesus said, “Fear not; from now on you will be catchers of men.” Previously they used nets to catch fish. From that day forward they used a different net. They used God’s Word.
Net fishing is “catholic,” universal, indiscriminate. Nets catch anything and everything. Nets capture what you want and things you don’t want. Fish, old tires, you name it. The mission of the church is like net fishing. The true Church is a boat. The proclamation of God’s Word is casting out a huge net. The casting of the net is not luring people into the kingdom, but sweeping them in, capturing them in the gracious net of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Not discriminating, picking and choosing, deciding which are the keepers and which to throw back. Similar to fish caught in a net, a lot of people don’t want to be there. As the net tightens around them they always look for a way to escape. But the paradox is that the way to save your life is to lose your life.
We follow the Word of Jesus, the Lord of creation, the Savior of all, the Lord of the Church. “Make disciples of all the nations.” Go fishing in the deep water. Cast out your nets, the net of the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Baptize and teach, and in the baptizing and teaching, Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Go fishing, the Lord says to His church. Cast the net of Jesus’ resurrection wide and deep into the waters of the world. And whether we haul in a boat load or a few, that’s the Lord’s business, and He knows best. The catch, the growth of the church, is His, not ours. God blesses the catch. God blesses us with all things. The greatest catch is right here.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson previously read.
“You can’t judge me. Only God can judge me. Only God knows my heart.” You probably have heard people say that common refrain. Or they’ll comment about Jesus even saying not to judge. “Jesus said not to judge, so don’t do it.” And are those statements true? They are, aren’t they? We can’t open someone’s brain and know their intentions, we can’t look beyond the surface and see what the attitude of their heart is, can we? Of course we can’t. But what’s the meaning intended when someone says this? They often mean that you can’t tell them that they’re doing something wrong. You can’t tell them that some action that they are taking is something they shouldn’t be doing. Or maybe it’s used with regard to something else, like how the pope recently said with regard to homosexuality, “who am I to judge?”
As we hear our Lord’s injunction this morning by which He says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven,” what does He mean? Does He mean that we can’t comment as to whether something is right or wrong? Does He mean that we can’t say that people shouldn’t be doing things, shouldn’t be committing a certain action?
I think we know the answer to that on some level. I think as we look at the way our society as a whole has drifted so far from the intent that our Lord has for us in so many ways, we know on some level that we still have to be able to call things wrong and right. For example, as the Church we speak to a sexual ethic and the call our Lord makes to His people that sex be reserved for the marriage bed between husband and wife. And we can support the benefit of this as we see how things like depression and mental illness have increased significantly in a culture where this has been ignored. Or how we see how many of the mass shooters in the past few years have come from homes without fathers—and the answer to that is nearly all of them. When we look at things like this, then we realize there is necessity to speak to whether things are wrong or right, don’t we? In fact, this is exemplified by the fact that our society as a whole still agrees that killing is wrong. We know that on some level this can’t outright mean that we can’t say that things aren’t right or wrong.
So, what does it mean then? Look at what Jesus says later in the passage. He says, “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.”
You see, the key is understanding this word “hypocrite.” When you speak about these things, don’t do so as a hypocrite. So, as I like to say, let’s ask the Lutheran question about that, “Was ist Das? What does this mean?”
To start with the word itself hypocrite, it has its earliest known origins relating to a definition of explaining or interpreting something. It’s from the same root as judgment, which isn’t really here or there for our discussion, but that connects to this old definition. What does relate is that you can see that the definition over time evolves to describe actors. Actors interpreted lines on stage and so they were hypocrites. However, this word was eventually applied to those who acted not on stage, but in their lives. Hypocrites as we understand them, people who might say one thing and do another. Or people who might hold themselves to one standard, but other people to another.
In fact, think about how Jesus uses the word elsewhere. It really fits that, doesn’t it? For example, as I was studying the definition, the dictionary I use for studying words for sermons pointed out that you could see Jesus using the word in Luke chapter 13. In that example, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. As He was teaching, He saw a woman with what Luke calls “a disabling spirit.” Something had afflicted this woman so that she couldn’t stand straight, but could only remain bent over. In fact, he tells us she had been that way for eighteen years. And what did Jesus do? He healed her. Right there and then, He said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And because Jesus’ Word carries His authority, that Word does what it says, as He also laid His hands on her, she was healed.
Now as I started that story, I mentioned that this was the Sabbath. As Lutherans, you might recall we don’t make a big deal about resting on the Sabbath. I’ve made this point before, but this is because Jesus is our Sabbath Rest, and so we understand the Third Commandment to keep the Sabbath Holy to mean that we “Fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” In other words, this means that not only hold His Word in esteem, but the public preaching of it, we hold the public worship in high esteem. But in the Old Testament, the Command clearly still stood that this meant that you rest. In fact, the Pharisees and the leaders of Jesus’ time had calculated just how much work you could do and still observe the Command. They figured out how many steps you could take, they figured out how much effort you could put into things, and they figured out what you could and couldn’t do. And what couldn’t you do? You couldn’t heal. And you can see that in this story. You can see it because the ruler of the synagogue becomes angry and says, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.
And how does Jesus respond? “You hypocrites!” You see He knows their hearts. He knows that they might show the appearance of caring for the commandment, but they don’t. They might even think that they are truly defending God’s Command and honor here. But they’re not. How do we know? He continues, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” In other words, He’s saying, “You are OK with watering your animals on the Sabbath, why shouldn’t this human, this child of God, be treated with greater regard?!”
In our day, this might be akin to the accusations I’ve seen where people point out the hypocrisy of saying that Black Lives Matter, but not caring that abortion kills far more Black Americans that any other form of maltreatment of the Black Community. And lest we be hypocritical, it’s also akin to the accusation that we as Christians claim to be pro-life and don’t care more for those who are need and choose not to abort their babies. That’s not to say that we don’t do some, or even a lot, but the Law always convicts us in the reality that we could or should do more.
And so, there we see how Jesus speaks of these men as hypocrites. In a sense, it’s a lack of consistency, as we often think of it. We could also say that for Jesus it’s using the commands of God as a checklist and a way to justify ourselves. In a sense we could say that Jesus applies this just like we spoke of the Elder Son last week in the story of the Prodigal Son. That son used the obedience to the commands of the father as a way to check off how good he was, to pat himself on the back in comparison to the younger, brother, that sinner.
And with that we could even say what I think is the essence of what Jesus is saying here. When He speaks of not judging, He’s saying that when we speak of right and wrong, we do so with mercy. He’s saying that when we deal with wrong doing, we don’t do it in such a way that reflects the self-righteousness of the Elder Brother last week. No instead, it should be like how Joseph spoke to his brothers.
I always say how that’s one of my favorite things in Scripture. There’s Joseph who went through all kinds of suffering, a type of hell, and was brought back. And he could have been bitter to his brothers as they caused it, but what does he do? He “comforted” them, he “spoke to them kindly.” What does he say? He says, “don’t worry. As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.” You see, he understood God’s mercy here. He understood that our God is the God who does not create evil, but as we create it continually in our sinful actions, He still uses it to accomplish His good. Joseph understood about God what we would see fully realized in Christ. That as we as sinful people would rebel against God, that as we would go so far as to accomplish the worst possible thing in killing the sinless man, the Son of God, the person of the Christ, God would accomplish the greatest possible good: the salvation of mankind.
Christians, there you see what Jesus speaks of when He says, “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” It doesn’t matter how many trials and tribulations you experience. It doesn’t matter if our suffering with coronaviruses—or now we’re hearing of possible swine flus—it doesn’t matter if those would keep us locked away till our death. It doesn’t matter should we be oppressed by tyrannical governments or groups. It doesn’t matter because God is still faithful. God is still merciful. God, in Christ has still given to you good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, put in your lap.
You can picture that with a measuring cup, right? You see this comes from the marketplace. It’s the mark of a generous seller. You put the grain, or the flour in. You push it down. You shake it out till it’s running over, running over into the folds of the cloth of the robes of the buyer so that he gets as much as possible; so that one cup is actually two, but only one is charged for.
Your cup runs over as He baptized you into the merciful death of Jesus and His joyous resurrection. Your cup runs over as He feeds you His body and gives you the cup of His blood pouring over with His mercy and forgiveness. Your cup runs over as He gives and gives to you mercy, each morning, each afternoon, each day. The sacrifice of the cross for your sins, delivered to you in generosity unheeded.
So how do we deal with this question of addressing right and wrong so as to not be hypocrites? We still call wrong wrong. We still call right right. But we apply it most of all to ourselves. And when we must apply it to others, we do so as gently, as understandingly as possible. Knowing that we deserve the same condemnation we might want to express to them. Knowing that we are just as broken as they, and we aren’t better than them, but that we want them to see their sin, not to feel bad, but to know this outpouring of Jesus’s mercy. That’s not easy to do. It’s only something we can do by grace. So we shouldn’t rush to do it. Instead, we should always rush to Jesus as He gives us from His mercy and grace generously with such a measure. Amen.