On Judgment, Righteousness and Jesus' Teaching (6:37-49)

Jesus develops his description of mercy by highlighting its relationship to forgiveness and judgment. Two ideas dominate Jesus' remarks on judgment. First, the measure we use to judge others is the standard that will be applied to us. Jesus suggests that God responds to us similarly to the way we treat others. The attitude expressed here is not unique to Jesus. In the Jewish Mishna, `Abot 1:6 reads, "When you judge, incline the balance in his favor." In the same Jewish work, Sota 1:7 reads, "With what measure a man metes, it shall be measured to him again." Negatively, Jesus says we should not judge or condemn. Positively, we are to forgive and give generously. Jesus illustrates the last point with the everyday example of measuring out grain for purchase. The seller would take a measuring container and pour the grain in it. After getting it about three-quarters full, he would shake it to level out the grain so more could be put in. The goal was to get as much in the measure as possible. In the same way God promises to give grace abundantly to those who are gracious.

Second, being merciful means being quick to encourage people toward restoration after they fall. Mercy does not gloat over sin or take pleasure in pointing it out; it roots for the sinner to find a way home to spiritual health. Often after someone falls we are anxious simply to cut him or her off to keep the church body from being leavened or to show that we will not associate with deeds of darkness. The church is to be concerned about moral purity. But we also should be quick to help set up opportunities for repentance and restoration. We should be discerning about the presence of sin but not judgmental in dealing with it. To be judgmental is to rejoice in pointing out sin and to refuse to reach out to the sinner to restore him or her to spiritual health. Rather than leaving the sinner to wallow in sin and the pain of moral failure, we should encourage the sinner to find the right path. Perhaps no picture of this commitment is clearer than the career of Hosea. He called sin by its name but always stood ready to receive the sinner back, even after gross sin.

It is no accident that Jesus' words against judgmentalism come right after the call to be merciful as God is. An unwillingness to be judgmental is almost a requirement for those who face persecution. Without it, lines of battle would become hardened and the ability to love the enemy would be destroyed. God is interested not in polemics but in offering the hope of restored relationship to the lost.

This exhortation needs to be set in the framework of Jesus' entire teaching. Jesus does not mean that we should close our eyes to sin and wrongdoing. Jesus' rebuke of his opponents in 11:37-54 shows that being merciful does not mean suspending moral judgment and responsibility. But we are not to hold judgment against the person in such a way that ministry and reconciliation become impossible. Disciples are to bear good news, not hold grudges.

The sermon closes with a series of pictures showing us that Jesus' teaching is to be taken seriously. The first image deals with the importance of choosing the right teacher and looking carefully to oneself before offering criticism (vv. 39-42). The second image has to do with producing the right kind of fruit (vv. 43-45), while the third shows the wisdom of holding fast to Jesus' teaching (vv. 46-49).

The question whether a blind man can lead others is rhetorical, and the point is not developed explicitly. Of course when Jesus asks if the blind are able to lead the blind, he expects a negative answer, as the Greek particle meti indicates. He expects the blind man and his followers to fall into a pit, as the particle ouchi indicates. In fact, a disciple will be like his teacher. Jesus does not explain the remark or develop the picture, but he is warning us to watch which teacher we follow. If we follow someone who takes in no light, we will stumble. So we are to consider carefully who our teacher is. Religious opposition is the setting for Jesus' remarks. Jesus' own offer of authoritative teaching in the sermon suggests that his disciples should not follow the religious leadership but him—a point he will make more explicitly in verses 46-49.

Given the plethora of options available today, we can sense the importance of Jesus' remarks: Choose your instructors wisely, since you will become like them. To build solidly on a firm foundation, follow the teaching of those who teach God's Word, not tradition or feeling (two alternatives often on offer today). Jesus' message commends itself as worthy of being heard and followed. Those who reflect his message also are worth listening to. In a time when reflection and thought are often given low priority, we ought to give high priority to reflecting on Jesus' teaching.

In fact, there is a reason we should be slow to judge and be careful whom we follow: we all have huge faults that we must deal with before we are in a position to help others. A judgmental spirit often reflects a self-righteous, unreflective, insensitive heart.

Jesus continues to work with the imagery of sight, only here he uses humor. Imagine, Jesus says, trying to see with a plank of wood sticking out of your eye. Just try seeing with a two-by-four as bifocals! A plank would prevent clear vision. How could you complain about dust in someone else's eye when a two-by-four was protruding from your own? Jesus' point is clear. It is important to clean up one's own act before offering advice to others. In fact, one way to examine ourselves for self-righteousness is to consider how often we are interested in correcting others rather than correcting our own attitudes and actions.

Jesus does not say we should not examine the lives of others. But we should do so only with a careful eye cast toward ourselves. Galatians 6:1 is similar in tone. Jesus wants disciples to be a moral encouragement to one another, but there is a proper way to go about it. There is a crying need for humility, an awareness that all of us are learning to walk more closely with God. To help another see clearly, we need to wash out our own eyes first.

In the end, disciples are to reflect good character. Our relationship with God is to produce good fruit. The fruit reveals the nature of the root, for each tree is recognized by its own fruit. Bad trees do not produce good fruit, nor do good trees produce bad fruit. To judge a tree's fruit, we don't look at one particular moment but at a period of production. The product of the life reflects the heart. The product of our discipleship reflects our inner character, what Jesus calls the treasure of the heart. The value of our speech and actions is determined by the quality of the soul that produces them. In other words, works are a snapshot of the heart.

Often the church avoids talking about "works" because people could begin focusing on externals or putting good deeds in the place of faith. But the tree image can help us steer clear of such problems. Jesus says that works are a product of something deeper. By linking the heart and the fruit, Jesus ties together motive and action. Works are ultimately a matter of the heart: the product can never be entirely divorced from the motive, and the presence of fruit does not mean the absence of faith!

In fact, the major issue in the life of a disciple is faithfulness. So Jesus issues a challenge in verse 46: "Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" The rhetorical question raises the issue of faithfulness. A good heart is faithful, while a hypocritical one is not. Obedience is not a matter of rule keeping but of faithfulness. How can one recognize Jesus' authority and call him Lord and then not follow through on the commitment to walk with him?

With this question Jesus turns to the issue of his authority. He is not formulating some ethic that we could follow independent of relationship to him. Having a relationship with him is at the base of faithfulness. This is why the parallel to this verse in Matthew 7:21 makes knowing him the key. Luke does not emphasize the end-time judgment as Matthew does, but for both consistency and faithfulness are central. Jesus says, If you wish to be wise, you will love as I have taught, follow me as Teacher and Lord, and walk in my way with faithfulness. The implication emerges more clearly in light of the parable that follows.

Jesus concludes his sermon with the parable of the two houses. In a subdivision there are two homes. One is built on rock, the other on sand. Luke's imagery is detailed. One builder dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. A secure foundation takes work. The hard work is worth it, because in the storm this house stands strong and secure. Nothing shakes it. Obeying Jesus will mean being able to stand up in the trials of life. In contrast is the man who quickly builds his house on the top of the earth. There is no depth to his building, only a surface structure. Without a strong foundation, the house cannot hold up when the river floods. The use of multiple terms to describe the house's collapse accentuates the note of tragedy in the image. Translated precisely, the end of verse 49 reads, "Immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house" (NRSV). Everything this man had is lost. Jesus offers no editorial comment, but lets his sermon end with the echo of the collapsing house.

The parable gives a sober warning: How tragic not to respond to Jesus' teaching. How foolish not to build on the rock that can weather the storms of life. What a tragic waste when we fail to heed Jesus.

So Jesus preaches promise-judgment in the beatitudes and woes. He calls on disciples to love in imitation of their Father in heaven. He warns them to follow him as teacher and watch their step when they criticize others. He calls on disciples to be faithful and obedient, because that is the path of wisdom, endurance and strength. The product of the life reflects the heart's true nature. Spiritual strength grows out of obeying the Lord Jesus. It is like fixing a foundation deep in the earth. Jesus' sermon reveals the ethics of the disciple, but behind the ethics stands the authority of the commissioned agent of God. Jesus preaches not as a philosopher-teacher but as the revealer of God's wisdom. As the voice from heaven will say later in this Gospel (9:35), we should "listen to him."

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