The Sermon on the Plain: Karma


Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return. (Luke 6:37-38 CEB).

  • “Karma” is a Hindu concept that we Westerners tend to think of as cosmic balance. “What goes around, comes around.” What you deal out will be dealt back to you. The internet is full of videos of “instant karma.” We usually only think of karma when we see someone “get what’s coming to them,” and we experience schadenfreude—“malicious delight in the pain of others.” The German word literally means “damage-joy.”   
  • But the Hindu concept is really an expression of a simple law of the universe: Every moral action has an equal and opposite reaction. Our actions have consequences, and even the tiniest reverberate in eternity.   
  • In Hinduism, the enlightened person acts benevolently without being attached to the results. “They are free, without selfish attachments… They perform all work in the spirit of service, and their karma is dissolved” (Bhagavad Gita 4:23). The goal is to escape the endless cycle of karma and payback.   
  • Jesus here applies the concept to our moral grandstanding. He has just talked about being compassionate as our Father is compassionate toward wicked and ungrateful people. Here he seems to call into question our moral reasoning itself: Are you so sure you know who the wicked and ungrateful are? Are you sure you know who the “sinners” are? Best not to judge at all, since what goes around, comes around.   
  • Jesus is steadily working toward higher and higher states of moral reasoning in this sermon.
    1. First stage: Love your enemies. Why? Because even your enemies (sinners) know how to be kind when it suits them, and you are better than that.
    2. Second stage: Love as God loves, because you are God’s children, and even God is kind to sinners.
    3. Third stage: Sinners? Who is to say you’re not the sinner? Best be on the safe side and give everyone the forgiveness and grace you want for yourself.
  • I love the emphatic way Jesus puts this. The portion you receive, he says, will be “packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing.” This is not one of those bags of potato chips that is half full of air and says on the package, “Contents may have settled during shipping.”   
  • In the ancient world, measuring in the marketplace could be a place of contention. If you paid for a bushel, you wanted that bushel to be full, with no wasted space. A measure of grain should be “firmly shaken.” Jesus adds “packed down” and “overflowing.” In other words, you bet your sweet bippy that you will get every last bit of the judgment coming to you.   
  • It is both a threat and a blessing: forgive and be generous in a way that you will be delighted to receive what God has in store for you.   
  • It is also meant to point us beyond threat and blessing. I think the gist of this passage is that our God is NOT a transactional God. The whole nature of this sermon is to move us, stage by stage, from selfish reasoning (If you do good to those who do good to you, why should you be commended?) to something better (You will be acting the way children of the Most High act).

Grace That Fills Every Nook and Cranny of the Cosmos, deliver us from a theology of deserving.