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Jesus said to his disciples, ‘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.’
The opening words of today’s reading should not surprise us: Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. We encounter the same sentiment at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, in the Beatitudes: Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. As in the Beatitudes, Jesus’ encouragement to be merciful does not stand alone. Immediately before today’s reading Jesus presents us with the challenge of loving our enemies. In case we are tempted to soften those words in any way Jesus is explicit in describing who he means by enemies. Then, after the opening words of today’s reading, he speaks of judgement, condemnation, forgiveness and generosity. As with the giving of the command to love our enemies, Jesus is explicit: do not judge or condemn others, and do forgive and be generous towards those same others.
It is not uncommon to hear people speaking of ‘tough love’. Such ‘love’ can inflict pain and anguish, but the perpetrator of ‘tough love’ would say that they are being merciful, they are acting in the best interest of the recipient of their form of love and mercy. But … of course … such ‘cruel’ love does not fit comfortably alongside the teachings of Jesus. To come to the conclusion that we need to inflict ‘tough love’ we need to have judged and condemned someone. There is also the fact that we have taken the decision to deprive someone of their freedom to choose how they wish to live out and develop their relationship with God.
To show mercy is to forgive those who have trespassed against us. To show mercy is to have compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. To show mercy is to refrain from exerting power and authority over others. All of this is contained within Jesus’ words in today’s reading.
People make poor choices in their lives. We make poor choices in our lives. It is not for us, or our fellow human beings, to judge and to condemn. It is for us to show mercy.
There will come a time of judgement and, perhaps, condemnation. But, the judge will be God. Let us pray that on that day, he will see how merciful we have been and show mercy to us.