“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.”
For last week’s Gospel, we spent some time contemplating the subtle differences in the sheep, the coin, and the son, that is, how they each ended up in their lost status. Sheep have some culpability, but not a lot; wandering away is what they do. Coins have no culpability as they are inanimate objects. The son has the most culpability of all of them, but still, even his “coming to himself” was deficient.
Rather, we pondered, the focus of each of these parables is on the one finding the lost one, the shepherd, the woman, and the father. We concluded that similar to us, we all find ourselves in our lost conditions for a variety of reasons, and with a variety of levels of personal, conscious awareness of how we got there. But our Lord is the focus. Wherever we are at and however we got there, the point is not on what’s going on in our psyches, but what He’s doing in finding us.
This week’s Gospel gives some behind the scenes information on what’s going on. Be merciful, says Jesus, meaning, consider the frailty of those who are living lives according to God’s perfect standard. Don’t just harshly, as their sins deserve, but mercifully. Don’t condemn them, but again, consider their frailty.
This is the driver of the seeker of lost ones! The shepherd doesn’t judge the sheep as if it should know better. The woman doesn’t condemn the coin to be lost forever. The father takes into consideration whatever huge personal defects the son has.
Putting these two Gospels together actually explains much and provides a lot of comfort. The shepherd, woman, and father each know what the standard is, what right looks like. It’s all the sheep together, all the coins together, and a son acting right. Whatever happened to cause the lost ones to fall away from this perfect order is almost irrelevant as far as the end result is concerned.
The shepherd, woman, and father are merciful regarding what was lost. They also display giving hearts as they throw a party.
As we look at ourselves and our sins, we could come up with a variety of reasons why the Lord need not be merciful to us. But when we fall into this self abuse and guilt, we are not being faithful to the Lord’s nature, which is to be merciful. He doesn’t judge us as our sins deserve. He doesn’t condemn us. This is how the Father is. Why? Because He knows we are frail. He knows the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. He sympathizes with us in our weakness.
Jesus didn’t condemn the disciples when they lacked faith, or slept in the garden, or spoke foolishly. He rebuked them and taught them harsh truths, but He didn’t condemn or judge them. That is, He didn’t condemn them to hell. Rather, as He says, “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” And again, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him – the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.”
It is the rejection of Jesus and His word, and the malicious use of our own words to do so, that leads to our condemnation. But Jesus Himself, for the one who goes to Him, will never deny the one seeking mercy or His goodness.