We fail to be merciful as our Father is merciful

The matter under review here is not Jesus’ authority to judge nor his willingness to judge. Rather it is the judgment or potential for judgment implied in Peter’s question. Coming as it does after the Jesus’ words on Peter’s coming trials, persecution and death we can, as it were, read between the lines: “What about him? Is he going to be martyred too?”

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We fail to be merciful as our Father is merciful

By Steve Hall


Saturday of the Seventh Week of Easter
Acts 28:16-20, 30-31
John 21:20-25


Peter is a fascinating character. When we first meet him, his humility is impressed upon us. But then, as he reappears again and again in the Gospels, we find him cautious, enthusiastic, outspoken, eager, over-confident, protective, loyal, fearful, sorrowful, repentant, accepting, and here we find him curious.

P. “Lord, what about him?”

J. Well? What about him?

P. Is he going to be persecuted and die too?

J. “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours?"

The exchange ends with the Lord’s directive to Peter: “You follow me."

There is a finality to that statement that may easily interrupt reflection on similar teachings that might otherwise come to mind. We have heard the teaching before, though we may not recognize it. When previously taught, it came as the flip side of the “You follow me" coin.

It’s hard enough to be sensitive to what God is doing in my life. It’s impossible for me to know what God is doing in someone else’s. That very impossibility calls our attention to the flip side.

The Scripture texts on judging and judgment are generally straightforward that is, until you assemble them together. John informs us of Jesus’ teaching on the subject. It is simple and direct.

“The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.” (John 5:22)

Simple and direct, that is, until we read a bit further and find that Jesus also says:

“I judge no one.” (John 8:15) and

“If any one hears my sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” (John 12:47)

All judgment has been given to the Son, but he judges no one. Moreover, he does not even judge those who hear him but do not act upon his sayings.

Curiouser and curiouser!

As is typical with Scripture, reading for understanding requires not only looking at all the different but related teachings on a subject but also a serious consideration of the context in which each of the statements was made. But the matter under review here is not Jesus’ authority to judge, nor his willingness to judge. Rather, it is the judgment or potential for judgment implied in Peter’s question. Coming as it does after Jesus’ words on Peter’s coming trials, persecution, and death, we can, as it were, read between the lines: “What about him? Is he going to be martyred too?”

Jesus’ comments on human judgment, particularly our judgment of other people, is clear: Just don’t do it. Why? That part too is clear.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

The teaching may seem awkward to implement, considering the degree to which judgment is part of our lives. However, the rationale behind the mandate becomes readily understandable when we turn to Luke’s account of the same teaching. There we find that Jesus’ charge is introduced with the words: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) so we return to the teaching as Matthew records it and ask: do we want to be judged with no consideration for what were the circumstances of our lives?

There is little doubt that we fail to be merciful as our Father is merciful. We cannot take into account a person’s history, experience, or influences. Often, we don’t even try. We cannot see either the logic of their thinking or the motivation of their hearts. Because of our background and education, we may well say that what another is doing is not conducive to their spiritual growth. We cannot say with any certitude that that action we see as wrong makes the person a ‘bad’ person.

"Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back." (Luke 6:36-38)

There is one other text that should be considered in this discussion. It’s from an incident recorded by John and involves what should happen to a woman caught in adultery. “And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’” (John 8:7)

Reword that slightly and consider once again our tendency to judge.

‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a judgment at her.’

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