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Be Merciful (St. Luke 6.36-42)

Fourth Sunday after Trinity

“Be Merciful”
Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus 

St. Luke 6.36-42

10 July 2022



Our Lord’s words from the Sermon on the Mount are not a description of how to be saved. Very clearly Holy Scripture tells us that we are saved by grace for Christ’s sake through faith, to use a catechetical phrase. And yet these words are catechetical. They teach us how a follower of Jesus, one who is justified by Christ’s sacrificial death, should conduct this life. We all this sanctification, that is, faith in action. In Holy Baptism we put on Christ. We received a new spiritual nature as the new man arises each day from the waters of Baptism. 

There are some who think that the Christian life is defined by not doing certain things. In a certain sense that’s true. We are to avoid those things which God forbids and which damage our souls, but mostly the Christian life focuses in doing good things. We can call it active obedience, doing what our Lord wants us to do from a regenerated spirit. The Pharisees and other religious leaders practiced only a strict, unforgiving Law. They condemned others. They showed no mercy.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” 

This is an impossible command! Nowhere does Holy Scripture say that we can be perfect like God. Yet, Jesus says here that we are to be just as our heavenly Father is—merciful. Another word here would be the word compassionate. 

God clearly gave the command to Israel,

You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. [Lev. 19.2]

Yet, perfect holiness is not something we can produce, much less mercy. After Holy Baptism God the Holy Spirit acts in us and through us. He gives us the righteousness of Christ and yet our righteousness never measures up to the perfection demanded by the Law of God. We still have need of daily repentance and God’s forgiveness for the sins we daily commit. We need to realize that our sin will still bring our bodies to the grave.

Holiness is something that most people don’t expect of themselves but do expect it in others. Especially unbelievers think this way about Christians. They are quick to judge, that is, condemn Christians for every failure they have but see no need for condemning themselves. It is not with our neighbor that we are to compare ourselves; it is God with whom we are told to compare ourselves. And when we do that we see the impossibility of it all. To use our Lord’s term in the Our Father, we are in debt, a debt that we cannot possibly pay.

So God deals with us in mercy. The hymn writer Johann Heermann perhaps says it best in the great Lenten hymn, O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken [LSB 4394]

What punishment so strange is suffered yonder!

The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander;

The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,

Who would not know Him. 

Divine mercy means forgiveness. It is how God deals with us in Christ. That is divine mercy! To have mercy is to show compassion. God does not give us what we deserve. 

Joseph’s brothers certainly deserved what they had given Joseph. They deserved retribution, pay back. Retribution is word we know well these days. That’s what Joseph’s brothers feared, and rightly so.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” [Gen. 50.15]

But the most amazing thing happened. The brothers repented and offered to be Joseph’s servants. They were ready to take their punishment, but there is something very interesting in Joseph’s response. He said to them,

“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 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, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” [Gen. 50.19-21]

Actually, Joseph was in the place of God! He ruled all of Egypt, yet he was merciful as his heavenly Father. Joseph forgave them because he saw God’s greater will at work, to save the people to whom the promise of the Savior had been given. 

In the opening words of Romans 12.1 Paul exhorts Christians to live “by the mercies of God.” In other words, God’s mercy comes first and is to flow through us to others. Our Epistle reading goes on to exhort us to practice such virtues as our Lord describes in the Gospel. Our Lord admonishes us to be the light through whom others see the Father in heaven. They are to see our good works, our mercies, and see our heavenly Father. [Matt. 5.16]. We are to be like our Father in heaven for the benefit of others, so that they are drawn to him.

So the Apostle Paul tells us to be imitators of God:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. [Eph.. 5.1]

Being merciful makes us like God. We act as God acts when we are merciful and forgiving. The essence of Christian conduct doesn’t consist in not doing bad things, but in actively doing good things. That’s what Paul gets at here

When I was in elementary school in the primary grades there was a chart above the blackboard. It was cursive writing. Upper case and lower case letters spanned the entire length of the blackboard. Some of you senior citizens no doubt remember those charts. They were to show us the proper way to write in cursive. We had the big lined paper and we practiced making those letters. Over and over and over again we did them, trying to form the letters just like they were on the chart. And we turned our papers in and our teachers graded them! We got marks for handwriting! There was that pattern which we were to copy. 

In a way, that’s how we live the Christ-like life. We practice doing what God does to us. We bless; we live in harmony with others; we do not take revenge; we repay good for evil; we feed our enemy in hopes of overcoming evil with good; we show mercy to others, even our enemies. This is what we are to copy and practice over and over again. In this life we’ll never get it done perfectly. Sin still clings to us but Christ lives in us and he sends his Holy Spirit to motivate us and remind us of the mercy the Father has shown to us in his Son. The Holy Spirit helps us locate that log in our own eye so that we don’t focus on finding the speck in our brother’s eye. 

The practice of mercy is not easy. It’s hard. We’ve become a society of nitpickers and faultfinders. The media has taught us to find unnumbered ways of judging our neighbors. Every word put in cyberspace stays there. Nothing is forgotten. Even with repentance people are canceled. They can never find forgiveness for even the most trivial of offenses. No Christian dare act like that!

Luther said, “If you can stop judging others, God will stop judging you.” Your forgiveness to your neighbor does not cause God to forgive you. He’s already done that on the cross. Rather, your forgiving others, being merciful to others, your not condemning others is the result of what God in Christ has done for you. If you are not moved by the mercy of God to you, then nothing in all this world will change your heart. Luther said that we become brier bushes, prickly people who only wound and find constant fault. The warning Jesus gives is this: if we fail to show mercy, if we refuse to forgive or help, God will throw the book at us and bring our every sin to his remembrance. 

For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Are those words not terrifying? Nevertheless, they need not be.

Remember Joseph if you need an example other than our Lord. He showed mercy to those who had ruined his life, even though they did not really ruin it because God intervened and made him master of all Egypt. Joseph saw through it all to his heavenly Father and imitated that in dealing with his brothers. Imitate your heavenly Father by showing mercy and kindness to others. God will fill your sack with blessings!

God will bless you as he did Joseph and saints throughout the ages.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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