Why Does Jesus Call You to Do the Impossible?
Fourth Sunday after Trinity
Commemoration of the Nativity of John the Baptist
June 24, 2018
The boy shot up his hand in Sunday School when the teacher asked the class if they knew the Golden Rule. “I know, I know! Do to others before they do to you!” That’s not exactly good theology. I heard a person once describe the Golden Rule as, “Whoever has the most gold, rules.” That is too often the case in this fallen world. There are those who think that it goes this way, “Do to others as they do to you.” That one is certainly equitable. You might even have misunderstood it as, “Do good to others and they will do good to you.”
But none of these are quite right. They all have in common the misunderstanding that you are the person who matters. If you do to others before they do to you, you have in mind your own interests. Whoever has the most gold, or wealth, or power doesn’t always have in mind the best interests of others. And the doing to others as they do to you is a form of, “An eye for an eye.” “They hurt me, I’ll hurt them back.” “They were good to me, I’ll be good to them.” And the last one simply does not always happen in life. You sometimes do good to others without being reciprocated. If you do good to others with the expectation they will do good to you you will be disappointed more often than not.
What is the Golden Rule? Jesus says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” He spoke these words in building up to the words He spoke that are recorded in our Gospel reading for today. Here the thought is not of yourself but of the other person. You treat others not with regard to how you will fare but with how they will. You treat them the way you would like others to treat you.
It’s hard to do. We naturally take care of ourselves, look out for ourselves, do what’s best for ourselves. We don’t want people taking advantage of us. What if doing good to others is not reciprocated? What if they actually do harm to us? Should we still do good to them? Should we still follow the Golden Rule? Yes. Jesus even goes so far as to say that we are to love our enemies and to do good to them.
This is Jesus’ perspective on the matter: Be merciful as your Father is merciful. Instead of exacting revenge, forgive. Instead of seeking equity, give without reservation.
What Jesus is calling you to do is impossible. In the Gospel reading He says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.” You are not to judge. If you do, you will be judged. Does not Jesus know that you have already failed? Why does He call you to do the impossible? You are not to condemn others, if you do, you will be condemned. Jesus must know that you have already fallen under condemnation since you have condemned others. If you forgive others you will be forgiven. How then can you be forgiven since you have not always forgiven others?
Why would Jesus set the bar so high that you could never measure up to it? Isn’t this the opposite of grace? Isn’t this is the way all the other religions operate, placing the burden of salvation on people rather than on God? Why is Jesus placing the burden on us and at that, a burden that is impossible to bear?
The answer is that there is no other way. You will die at some point. When you stand before God on His judgment throne you will see beyond doubt that you do not measure up to His holiness. You will see that you deserve nothing but eternal damnation. But now, in this life, you hold out hope for yourself. You look at all those times you do not judge others and do not condemn others and do forgive others. You think that that has to count for something. But the standard Jesus calls you to is impossible. It calls for being merciful as your Father is merciful. The times you get it right aren’t enough. You need to be as your Father is.
Jesus lays this out before you so that you can see that there is only hope for you in repentance. There is no hope for you in yourself. Instead of looking to yourself you need to acknowledge your sin and renounce your sin. When you do, you will no longer look to yourself for hope. In repentance you see what you need to see, which is not a what but a who. You will see Jesus. Not a new lawgiver, do this and do that. Be perfect and do everything the right away and don’t do the wrong things. You will see Jesus who embodies the very things He is calling you to.
You know, those impossible things like the Golden Rule, and loving your enemies, and being merciful as your Father is merciful. Those things like not judging, not condemning, and those things like forgiving. They are impossible. Which is why you need to look to Jesus. He has done the impossible. He has loved as no human being can or has. He has forgiven as only God can forgive.
Everything He has done is what we ought to do and have failed to do. The Ten Commandments are the clearest expression of God’s will. Keep the Ten Commandments perfectly and you keep God’s will perfectly. Jesus was born and lived as you and I have. And yet, He lived according to the Ten Commandments. What is impossible for you He has done. And He has done it for you. His calling of you to do the same isn’t to drive you to despair but to despair of your own will and ability to live according to the Ten Commandments. In Jesus’ call you ought to see Him Himself, the one who embodies perfect alignment with God’s will.
Even so, what He has done He has done so for you. But your sin must still be reckoned with. This is why Jesus went to the cross. What He has accomplished in living perfectly works together with what He has suffered on the cross. All of your failing to live up to the impossible standard of the Ten Commandments has been laid upon the shoulders of Jesus in His suffering and death. The condemnation you rightly deserve was placed upon Him. He was condemned in your place.
You are forgiven because of Christ. You are not condemned because of Christ. You are not judged because of Christ. This is true now and it will be true as you stand before God on Judgment Day. Even so, you still live and fail, don’t you? How does what Jesus is teaching help you live in the way God wants you to live? Are you not to bring up to others their sins? Not judging, not condemning, and forgiving does not mean you ignore the sins of others. It is just the opposite. What Jesus is concerned with is how you do it.
Do not set about correcting a person caught up in a sin when you are blinded by the log that is in your own eye to see that what you are correcting in the other person is a speck. What Jesus is saying is, how can you call another person to account of their sin without recognizing that you yourself are guilty of sin yourself. He says that if you are so ready to point out the sins of others and do not even see your own then you are a hypocrite. You are not seeking what is good for them but for yourself. You are thinking that your sin is not as great as theirs.
Rather, when you approach a person who is caught up in a sin, you ought to do so in humility. Your hope is that they will repent. You are not trying to pummel them and crush them. You are trying to show them what you yourself have seen, and that is not a thing but who. It is Christ. You look to Christ for the hope you have in your sin and you want the other person to see Christ also. So you do not go to him or her as judge, jury, and executioner, but as fellow sinner. As one who needs mercy as they do. As one who has received mercy and seeks to give mercy.
This is impossible apart from Christ. But it is not only possible in Christ, it simply is in Christ. You are Baptized. You are in Christ. You live the impossible, a sinner who is under the mercy of the Father. A child of God who is forgiven because of Christ. A new creation by the power of the Holy Spirit. What more could you want to share in with your brothers and sisters in Christ? And to share this good news with those who do not know it! Amen.