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Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A 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.’
Jesus taught that the two most important commandments are to love God and to love our neighbour. Today we are given specific ways in which we might honour his command. Jesus teaches that we should not judge others, that we should not condemn others, and that we should both forgive and give, that is act in a spirit of generosity. Do not judge; do not condemn; forgive and give.
The daily lives of so many people are dogged with judgement and condemnation, whilst showing hardly any forgiveness or generosity. We live lives that focus primarily on the satisfying of our own needs and wants. In order that we might not have to ‘give in’ to practices that do not sit comfortably with our own likes and dislikes we turn the foibles of others into the subject of judgement and condemnation. We are ruthless in the way we describe the words and actions of others simply because they do not think, speak and act as we do. But … those people have the right to be heard too. Even those who are mirror images of ourselves should not be judged or condemned because their right to be heard is just as valid as ours.
The way in which people are judged and condemned is all too common in our church communities. Whether it is a matter of the choice of hymns, the style of liturgy or even the sharing of the peace (!), there are those who feel that their preferences have a greater claim on the allegiance of those with whom they gather in church. We even see people being manipulated into joining in with all that judgement and condemnation on no stronger basis than they are afraid to stand up to those who feel they have the right to bully others.
Jesus makes it clear that we are not the ones who sit on the seat of judgement, and we are not the ones who have the right to condemn others. We are frail human beings too. In our frailty we need the forgiveness and the generosity we so often withhold from those we perceive to be weaker than ourselves.
Today we are challenged to pray for an openness of heart and generosity of spirit that will empower us as we seek to love God and neighbour with all our hearts, and minds, and strength. We are challenged to pray for the humility to listen to the needs, the likes and the dislikes of others. We are called to pray that we might lay all that we find challenging before God, and then trust in his judgement … even when his conclusions are not the same as our own.