Thursday, April 21, 2005

Luke 6:27–49

Here we have the guts of the “Sermon on the Plain”, Luke’s analogue to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. It starts with the beatitudes, and continues with much of the same material (though much less of it) that Matthew puts in the Sermon on the Mount.

He is speaking to “a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon”; the last suggests that there are probably non-Jews in the audience too.

The part I’ve picked out here is Jesus’ new version of the lex talionis, the law of retributive punishment. The lex talionis is the “eye for an eye” law of criminal punishment (or tort liability, depending on how you think of it). It worked a reduction, because no longer could you exact whatever punishment you wanted, you were limited to exacting an equal punishment in kind to the harm that had been done to you.

Jesus lays out a different standard, but one based on the old. He says that you will meet with whatever you give out, “the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” In other words, be aware of the divine lex talionis and so if you want mercy, show it; if you want not to be judged, do not judge; if you want to receive richly, give richly.

The implication is that merely keeping your own hands clean, doing no wrong, is not enough to avoid judgment. For judgment hurts. To judge someone hurts them; it’s painful to be judged. You might have thought that if you did nothing wrong, then you would receive no painful judgment. That’s the pharisaic mentality as Jesus criticizes it. But he says, no! If you judge others, you will be judged, even if you judge them rightly and fairly, even if you keep your own hands perfectly clean. The only way not to be judged, not to be condemned, to be forgiven, is to refrain from judgment and condemnation, and to be forgiving.

Some like to quote Paul’s talk about right judging as if that nullified Jesus’ clear command not to judge. They have misunderstood Paul, but today’s text is Luke, not Paul. So here it is enough to answer to them, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? ... The one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.” What is the foundation? Mercy, kindness, gentleness, non-judgment, non-condemnation, forgiveness, love.

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