Today in Bible study we were reviewing the Sermon on the Plain, St. Luke's collection of Jesus' sayings on a myriad of subjects. One thing you notice is that Matthew is much longer (Sermon on the Mount) and that while much of the material is duplicate, there are places where Luke expands on Matthew. (or Matthew edits out Luke; or their common source).
The focus was on mercy and forgiveness. It is where Jesus says that we are going to receive what we dish out; an exhortation not to judge, not to condemn, but to show mercy. It is a worrisome section because judging others is a major part of the human condition. We seem to do it almost effortlessly. And everyone does it, including those who claim not to do it. Paradoxically they often judge others whom they determine to be judgmental!
Without transcribing a sixty minute class, the key point I tried to make was the organic nature of receiving and giving mercy. God flows into us (love and kindness) but the ability to show mercy and kindness is a preparation for receiving it. It is like a door, what goes in and what comes out use the same space. As we expand our capacity to give mercy we somehow increase our capacity to received mercy. God's infinite love is always larger than we can receive.... But we can receive more, so we need to expand the doorway.
In the follow up discussion I shared my belief that we are called to be like God in loving, accepting and forgiving the vastly diverse people in our world. We tend to be better with people who are 'like' us. If we are going to be in the Kingdom together, and we are all sorts (think of Scottish Presbyterians, Italian Catholics and South American Pentecostals at a table discussing theology). If God loves all of them it seems that they should love one another. Only mercy can hold us together!
Today I got a call from a former parishioner. She is so sweet and lovely and I miss her and her family greatly. So she is trying to get connected in her new home and came upon a "Christian" mothers group for young children. And then it began. She received a pretty thorough vetting from a phone interviewer and was pressured to profess Jesus so she could go to heaven. Now, this is a lady who has regularly recited the creed and publicly responded to the covenant renewal. She has been faithful for all the years I have known her, and here was a woman who decided that her faith was not up to snuff and she needed to "give her heart to Jesus on the phone." As is often the case, my friend was flustered and intimidated and the conversation ended on an unresolved note for the woman doing the questioning. Later that week my friend learned that a position (I think it was arts and crafts) which she had applied for was still vacant. Not much of an explanation why. Needless to say it was hurtful to my friend. (and irritating to me)
The Lord Jesus NEVER talked the way many Evangelicals do. His interests were far broader and wider. (and deeper) The purpose of that sort of intimidating and threatening "witness" does not to invite people into the new life of grace... Jesus does not demand a three step process by which every Christian must enter. A survey of Christian history reveals all manner of different styles and approaches. The Bible does not provide a simple user's guide for getting to heaven. It is hundreds and hundreds of pages occupied with all manner of concerns and interests. In the end, one of them is learning to live together. So I need to pray for that woman who upset my friend. I need to love her (even while not agreeing with her on so much). I have no trouble loving my friend. And I have no trouble believing that Jesus loves her, even if her churchmanship and spiritual style are a poor fit for this particular group of Christian moms.
And because I sin I need mercy. And as a sinner, I no doubt frequently am as intimidating and unfair to those who do not see things the way I do. So , in the end, it is about CONFESSION of Jesus and confession of my sin.... And as I seek mercy I must be merciful. And applying that lesson today, was a chance to allow the Scriptures to transform me...