Measure for measure

Pencil Preaching for Thursday, September 10, 2020

The measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you” (Luke 6:38)

1 Cor 8:1b-7, 11-13; Luke 6:27-38

The idea of standard weights and measures made commerce possible in market economies. Quantity and price could be uniform from location to location and trading could be predictable and fair.  Moral codes were also underwritten by shared standards like “an eye for an eye,” or its improved version, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” the Golden Rule.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus takes these standards up a notch by inviting his disciples to be as generous as God is generous, even with his enemies. They were not to return evil for evil or even demand strict justice but practice nonviolent resistance by shaming those who abused them by not retaliating. An aggressor willing to strike a nonviolent victim not just once but twice was outed as a bully. Those who cheated the innocent were exposed as cheaters. 

Many who find Jesus’s pacifism to be ineffective must consider Gandhi, who used Jesus’ strategy to rout the British Empire from India, or Martin Luther King Jr’s nonviolent campaign to secure the Voting Rights Act. Jesus’ intent was to reveal God’s inexhaustible love for everyone, including sinners, and in doing this he also showed how love transforms and frees the giver in remarkable ways.

The key insight in Jesus’ teaching was that the standard we set for others will define our own lives.  Forgiving people walk free from conflict and hurt while others are trapped in bitterness and the need to retaliate. Generous people write off unpaid debts while others obsess to balance their accounts to the penny, becoming calculating in all their relationships. People who refrain from judging others can forgive themselves while those who hold court on others have large caseloads to keep track of and can never be wrong themselves.

The ultimate standard Jesus taught was to imitate God, whose unconditional love flows through us to others. There is always more love, more mercy, forgiveness and compassion to go around, and we are the first beneficiaries.  Though we share the common fate of all human beings as weak, selfish and slow learners, we can still get up each morning to welcome another day as befuddled, imperfect mortals, but still loved and able to love, humbled by life’s mysteries and grateful for its opportunities to help others like ourselves be better people. As Jesus demonstrated, there is something Godlike about being fully human, and he wanted his disciples to enjoy the ride unburdened by pride or fear.  What we measure out is what we get back, so why not make it love?  

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