The Fourth Sunday after Trinity – Historic Lectionary – Luke 6:36-42 – July 9, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
In Luther’s Small Catechism, one of the most significant insights into the Christian life and Christian doctrine is found in the explanations to the Ten Commandments.
In very simple terms, Luther shows us what we most often are blind to; that the Law of God is never just a matter of being commanded not to do something, like murder, adultery or theft, but that the true Holiness of the Law, the complete Law always commands us to also constantly do the opposite.
True righteousness is not just a matter of following the rules, but actively seeking and doing that which is good.
So it is that when it comes to the first table of the Law, commandments one, two, and three, how we are to love God, it is not enough simply to not have other gods, but that we also fear, love and trust in this God alone.
So also, it is not enough, if you simply refrain from taking the Lord’s Name in vain.
The true righteousness of the Law demands that we also use God’s name rightly, that we call upon Him in daily prayer, that we praise His goodness, and give thanks for His mercy.
So it is that when we come to commandments four through ten, also known as the second table of the Law, the love of neighbor, we find the same truth to be at work.
It is not enough that you simply don’t kill your neighbor, the Law also demands that you at all times, would help and support your neighbor in every physical need.
The Law is never to be summarized as a simple appeal to not mess with or bother your neighbor.
The Lord is not like an impatient parent pleading with his children to stop messing around in the back seat and just keep their hands to themselves. He is Holy and Righteous and Good, indeed He is merciful, and calls us to the same.
The phrases, “Live and let live”, “Just mind your business”, and “Keep your hands to yourself”; these might be modern and even American understandings of what works and what is the best way to be at peace, but they are not of Christ, they are not Christian.
The Law is not a command to not bother your neighbor, the Holiness that it demands is not exactly the same thing as how many the world around us would quote this Gospel Lesson, with the famous words, “Judge not.”
Instead of keeping your hands and thoughts to yourself, the Law demands that you live with and for your neighbor, that you are involved with him, that you give to him, care for him, and in this way live in communion with him.
That is Holiness. It is not just the appearance of being nice, or being accepting, but it is true care and deep love for the neighbor.
When our Lord summarizes this second table of the Law in the Gospel of Mark, He does not simply say, “Love your neighbor”, but rather “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
The added phrase, “As yourself” is a command to empathy.
It is not a command to put on a good show, but rather to be fundamentally changed in heart and mind for the neighbor.
For indeed, true empathy also changes how we look at or think about not just neighbor’s joys and celebrations, but also their faults, sins, and misfortunes.
Empathy is commanded of us because our fallen mind is not empathetic. It is selfish.
When we consider our own actions, we make excuses. And yet when we consider the actions of others, we see serious character flaws, and an unending list of how we might have done it better.
Today our Lord proclaims, “For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)
St. Paul repeats this in his letter to the Romans, when he says: “You have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.” (Romans 2:1)
You don’t have to know by the heart the 10 commandments to be condemned, you don’t need to be familiar with Exodus and Deuteronomy, Moses or Mount Sinai. You are already condemned because your own conscience as low as that bar of morality may be, is already compromised and broken.
We daily commit the very acts and things that we hate in others. We gossip. We lie. We cheat. We think ourselves superior to others in thousands of ways.
The Law of God is absolute. There are no excuses. Do not lust. Do not covet. Tell the truth. Do not judge. Love one another.
And if that was all there was, we would be the most miserable of men.
Our standard, as low as it is, condemns us.
But it gets worse. Because next in our Gospel lesson our Lord tells us a parable about specks and beams in the eyes of men. Yet we are so full of our own selves that we often mistranslate it.
We turn it into the imaginary virtue of our modern age that proclaims “those who live in glass houses should not throw stones” or “live and let live.”
There is no charity, and certainly no mercy in this.
To see a man dying in the ditch and to drive on past is not mercy.
In the same way, to see a man in his sins, ignorant of what is actually good, of what God demands and expects, and to ignore this, is not merciful or kind. It is actually selfish in the worst way possible.
Our Lord throughout Holy Scripture in no way advocates ignoring the sins of others.
Rather He demands that we confess our own sins and serve our neighbor.
The details of this parable are significant. Jesus likens our sin to a splinter or a plank in the eye.
We should squirm a bit at the thought of how that would hurt. What could be worse than a splinter in the eye?
But that is not the point. Those with splinters and planks are mostly unaware of them.
They are being hurt by these things, but they don’t know it. They sometimes don’t even feel it.
The Eye is a metaphor for sight.
The ignorant brother with a splinter has a small, seemingly painless, yet dangerous blind spot.
The one with a plank is walking around with a blind fold on. He sees nothing, yet he seeks to correct others.
The point of the parable is that your vision – your ideas of the world and of God – actually do matter, they matter eternally. The parable is not a back handed way of saying, keep your thoughts to yourself, or don’t address the speck at all. Indeed, your vision matters, and when you have something wrong it is dangerous.
Doctrine matters. Errors in doctrine are sin. To reject the resurrection of Christ is not just to believe something different, it is to blaspheme Christ Himself. To refuse to call sin what the Lord Himself condemns in His law is not to paint the church a different color, it is to call God Himself a liar.
In the same way, judging the sins of others, and namely, condemning them, that is, refusing forgiveness and charity; these are deadly things. They can destroy faith and lead into Hell’s ditch.
So what is the greatest blindness of all?
Whatever you happen to have, whether the plank, the speck or something in between.
The Law’s purpose is not that you would figure it out, or that you would manage it and discover your best life.
The Law’s purpose is to proclaim the Father’s holy will and expose your failings.
That purpose might serve to guide and instruct you, but it always accuses you.
Because God’s will is holy and perfect, and your fallen flesh is not.
But there is more to Our Lord’s words and parable.
He also says: You will not be judged. You will not be condemned. You will be forgiven and given good measure.
Which is to say, quite simply, that Jesus does not preach Law and Gospel as “if-then” statements.
He does not say that if you do not judge then I will not judge you.
And neither does He say, “love Me and then I will love you.”
He simply proclaims the Law: do not judge.
And then He proclaims what He will do.
You will not be judged. You will not be condemned. You will be forgiven and given good measure.
For your Father is merciful, and on account of Christ who is judged by you and for you, you will be complete in Him and be like Him.
In your baptism in Christ, your specks and logs have been removed, and at the last day, you will no longer be blind, but you will see perfectly as you are perfectly seen.
Yet in the meantime, in this season and time of the Church, how is the blind man led? How are sinful Christians to walk about, even with blind spots and planks in our eyes?
Indeed, the blind are led not by sight, but by the ear. The Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel. He speaks in His Word. Such is the love that the Lord has given.
You are not to ignore your neighbor, but to listen for him. To humbly speak the Words that are given to you and to warn the neighbor of the danger that obstructs his own vision. And you are to keep listening, to hear the mercy of the Lord and extend the same to your neighbor.
St. Paul tells us the same when he writes, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh”
Indeed, we do not regard our neighbor according to what our selfish and prideful eyes, but according to what the Lord has given us to hear. Sins forgiven. Peace restored. The blind given sight.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.