Summary: Critical and Devotional Reading


We’ve worked through Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, and followed it up with Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. These were my objectives during the Lenten devotionals and those that followed:

  • To show that critical reading and devotional reading can go hand-in-hand. Each begins with a different question. Critical reading asks “What did the original author mean?” Devotional reading asks “What does this text mean to me?” When we come to some of Jesus’s most foundational sayings, I think we need to ask both kinds of questions.
  • To deepen understanding about the ekklesia. Conventional popular thinking argues, “Jesus never meant to create the church.” That would be a surprise to Matthew and Luke! Matthew’s Jesus clearly intends to create a community of prophets. The Sermon on the Mount is his manifesto for how the church should be “the light of the world.” Luke’s Jesus seems pretty confident that the Holy Spirit will do the job. Both versions of Jesus have no use for personal, private spirituality that doesn’t change the world. He believes our inner light should manifest in society.
  • To show how different biblical authors interpreted Jesus differently. Both Matthew and Luke are working from the same set of Jesus sayings, but come to different conclusions about how to understand them. What was true in biblical times is true today: we need different theological perspectives to reveal complex truth.

More than one thing can be true at a time! This is part of why, in my preaching and teaching, I try to give people a buffet of theological options. Christian history is deep and diverse, and what works for some simply will not work for others.

I’m going to turn now in a different direction: doing a critical and devotional comparison of the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. This emerges from my conviction that if God is going to save the world, God must do so with the help of non-Christians. Bill Hybels often said that the church is the hope of the world, that the church is God’s plan A and there is no plan B. I do think that the ekklesia represents Christ’s physical body on earth, and that God intends to create a community that will change the world. But the climate crisis reveals that this salvation community cannot be made up only of Christians. We ain’t gonna save the world by ourselves.

And why should anyone trust us to? The legacy of the colonizing church in the West is a theology of domination and exclusion. It has treated the Earth as a resource to be strip-mined, packaged, and sold in the service of oligarchy. Its theology is far from the interconnected web of life we see in the creation story, where human beings are created on the same day as the rest of the animals, where we are unique mainly in that we are assigned the role of loving and caring for the Earth as God does.

While I believe Jesus intended and commissioned a prophetic community, I also believe that the church does not have a monopoly on truth or on God. Indeed, as we’ve seen in Matthew and Luke, Jesus seemed frustrated with religious posturing and exclusivism. He was less concerned with how people labeled themselves and more concerned with how they put love into action.

We in the church desperately need a different way to frame our role and identity, our very sense of self, to manifest God’s kin-dom in this present crisis. And that’s why I’m going to turn to a different faith tradition to get some perspective on my own.  

Source of Truth, deepen my understanding.

Inner and Outer Light


Photo by Arne Hückelheim (click for source)


People don’t light a lamp and then put it in a closet or under a basket. Rather, they place the lamp on a lampstand so that those who enter the house can see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is full of darkness. Therefore, see to it that the light in you isn’t darkness. If your whole body is full of light—with no part darkened—then it will be as full of light as when a lamp shines brightly on you. (Luke 11:33-36 CEB)

  • First, the context: Just before he says this, a woman says “Happy is the mother who gave birth to you and who nursed you.” He replies, “Happy rather are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” Remember this — I’m going to come back to it in a moment. 
  • Jesus then talks about how people are often slow to believe and act on the truth. What he is offering, he says, is better than Solomon’s wisdom and more urgent that Jonah’s prophetic mission. Then he makes this statement about lamps and light. 
  • There are actually two sayings here that mirror Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount: a) Lighting an oil lamp and b) your eye is the lamp of the body (click the links to see what I wrote about them there). This takes some careful unwinding, because Luke actually uses the oil lamp saying once more in 8:16-19. Again, this illustrates how what Jesus said can be interpreted many different ways—not only by different authors, but even by the same author at different times! 
  • In this context, Jesus is talking about why we have trouble seeing and acting on the truth. Jesus says his teaching is like a lamp set on a lampstand. Everything he’s doing is done publicly, in clear sight of everyone. 
  • One of the competing spiritual worldviews of this time was Gnosticism. In Gnosticism, those who are spiritually enlightened pass secret knowledge to others. Christianity rejected this system and claimed that salvation was available, by grace, to all, not just to “spiritual elites.” 
  • But sometimes people are not able to see the truth because their eyesight is clouded (“unhealthy”). 
  • As in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus here tells us that there are two sources of light: external and internal. But there, in Matthew’s gospel, it was about greed and our perception of money. Here it is about our perception of the truth. 
  • It’s also about Jesus’s identity, as one who brings light to the earth. For people who can’t see clearly, it doesn’t matter how brightly he shines or how publicly he acts; they will remain in darkness. 
  • But the goal is to get the light into you
  • Remember how Jesus corrected the woman who centered on Jesus’s identity? He pointed back to putting his teaching into practice. It is better to do what I teach, Jesus implied, than to be a blood relative of mine. Light that is hidden is no light at all.  
  • I’d go further: It is better to do what Jesus teaches than to call yourself a Christian.

Light of the World, you shine in public, and you shine in me. Help me fill my life and my world with your light.

How Would You Treat Your Children?


Photo by Dr Sanket Mehta


Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened. Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him? (Luke 11:10-13)

  • Here’s the context: the disciples have asked Jesus to teach them to pray, so he taught them the Lord’s prayer. Jesus followed up with a parable about a man knocking on a friend’s door in the middle of the night. Jesus has said that God is not too comfortable to answer or bothered about when we choose to pray.  
  • This saying above is almost identical to the one in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, but it has a different context. 
  • One way to translate the first sentence more literally is, “Each who asks receives: the seeker finds, the knocker has the door opened.” We can see this as three separate actions, or we can see that both seeking and knocking are forms of asking. I think part of the emphasis is that people ask and receive in different ways. 
  • How would you treat your own children? I’m often amazed that people ascribe actions or attitudes to God that are beneath our own. Would you condemn your own children to an eternity to torment? Would you strike them with hurricanes, plagues, or natural disasters? Would you ignore you own children asking for bread? If not, why would we ascribe such hateful things to God? Jesus is talking about prayer, but I think we can extend it to other things. God wants to give you God’s own breath (pneuma, spirit). 
  • Luke is all about the Holy Spirit. In fact, the HS becomes a character in the sequel to Luke’s gospel. Where Matthew says the Father will give “good things” to those who pray, Luke says God will give the Holy Spirit
  • Unless you are in a Pentecostal tradition, you probably haven’t been taught that you even could pray for the Holy Spirit. “Is that something I’m supposed to pray for?” Luke seems to believe that it is obvious. While I don’t think the primary expression of the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues or faith healing, I do think we can—and should—pray for the very Breath of God to fill us up. 
  • A woman once cautioned me to “be careful what you pray for.” She related a story about a friend who had prayed for something, received it, and regretted it. But if someone gave you something you asked for, knowing it would hurt you, they would be more like the devil than like God. (In fact, Ray Bradbury wrote a creepy story about this very concept. Stories about djinns (or genies) also fit this paradigm). She was expressing a popular idea from folklore, not the Bible, about wishes. This is the passage that contradicts that superstitious reasoning. God is like a loving parent who wants to give God’s very breath to us, or a friend who delights in helping friends.

God, I am your child. Give me your breath. 

“Asking for a Friend”


Photo by Dmitry Makeev


He also said to them, “Imagine that one of you has a friend and you go to that friend in the middle of the night. Imagine saying, ‘Friend, loan me three loaves of bread because a friend of mine on a journey has arrived and I have nothing to set before him.’ Imagine further that he answers from within the house, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to give you anything.’ I assure you, even if he wouldn’t get up and help because of his friendship, he will get up and give his friend whatever he needs because of his friend’s brashness. And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened. (Luke 11:5-10)

Context: The disciples have just asked Luke’s Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus has taught them the short version of The Lord’s Prayer. He then goes on to tell this parable.

  • “Asking for a friend.” I’m not sure why this meme has recently entered our social media consciousness. It’s usually said with a nod and a wink as a way of sharing an opinion or a joke, but we couch it as asking for advice from the general public “for a friend.” 
  • Intercessory prayer is asking God to do something for someone. We are interceding, asking for a friend—sincerely. 
  • Jesus characterizes prayer as asking one friend to help out another. I think this is a beautiful image. It’s probably not coincidence that Jesus just taught a prayer asking for daily bread
  • Parables are not simply illustrations of what God is like. The point of this illustration is that God is not like a reluctant friend who is simply too comfortable to get up to help us out. We call this apophatic theology—describing what God is not (Its opposite is kataphatic theology, describing what God is like). 
  • The image is supposed to be amusing. The reluctant friend dragging himself to the door, rubbing his eyes. The sound of the door unlocking, opening just wide enough to thrust out three loaves of bread. “Here, take them.” “Thanks so much! Sorry to bother you.” “Mm,” God grunts, shutting the door. 
  • Even if he wouldn’t answer out of friendship, he would answer because of his friend’s audacity. This last word is hard to translate, but it seems to indicate, “I can’t believe you’re asking for this at three in the morning.” 
  • He will give his friend whatever he needs. Not just bread. The implication is that the friend could ask for nearly anything, and the lesson is that we should not be afraid to ask. 
  • “Is this what you imagine God is like? Too sleepy to answer the door?” Jesus seems to be asking. He sets us up to hear the next saying: Ask, seek, knock. 
  • This parable isn’t in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, but the “Ask, seek, knock” saying is. You can read about Matthew’s version here. We tend to conflate the sayings, but Matthew’s version has a different context. Matthew is talking about letting people seek their own path. Luke’s version is addressing prayer
  • Luke goes on to talk further about prayer and relationships. We’ll look at the rest of the saying tomorrow.

Great Mystery, we often project our weaknesses onto you. Shatter our expectations by answering our prayers for your kin-dom, for bread, and for mercy.

STIITSOTP (Stuff That Isn’t In the Sermon on the Plain): The Lord’s Prayer


Painting by Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato


Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus told them, “When you pray, say:

‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into [trial].’”
(Luke 11:1-4 CEB)

  • Much of the material that Matthew put into the Sermon on the Mount, Luke chose to put into his chapter 11 instead of the Sermon on the Plain. If you want to compare Luke’s version to Matthew’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, click here
  • In Luke’s version, the disciples ask for this prayer after they see Jesus praying. “Teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” This is new information! We don’t know what John taught his disciples, but apparently it was a prayer that made an impression on the people who heard it.  
  • Daniel Erlander (author of Manna and Mercy) says that this was a common practice among teachers and disciples in the ancient world; when they ask him to teach them to pray, they are asking for a summary of his teaching, the things most important to Jesus. In this prayer, Jesus emphasizes manna (daily bread) and mercy (forgiveness). Erlander uses this prayer as a lens through which to read the whole Bible. Jesus see the answer to the world’s problems as 1) a recognition that everything is a gift from God’s abundance, and 2) a loving, merciful, egalitarian attitude toward our neighbors. It’s a powerful vision, and fits with Luke’s emphasis on social justice. 
  • The CEB translates the last word “temptation,” but I think “trial” is better. It is the same Greek word Paul uses in his letter to the Galatians when he says, “Though my poor health burdened [or tested] you, you didn’t look down on me or reject me” (Galatians 4:14). Words can have different meanings in different contexts, and it is possible that “temptation” is the correct reading. Luke may have a different theology than I do! But I prefer “trial” both for theological and textual reasons. Let me point out again: this is a conscious choice on my part. We are always making choices when we read the Bible. 
  • If you compare this to Matthew’s version, you’ll see it is shorter. Matthew uses language Matthew likes: lots more “in the skies (heavens)” references. Luke doesn’t talk as much about the skies; he’s talking about what happens on this planet.

Jesus goes on to talk more about prayer, and that’s where we’ll hear some more familiar material tomorrow.

Lord, teach us to pray; teach us to desire the things you want us to desire.

The Sermon on the Plain: Dig Deep


photo by Rasbak (click for source)

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say? I’ll show what it’s like when someone comes to me, hears my words, and puts them into practice. It’s like a person building a house by digging deep and laying the foundation on bedrock. When the flood came, the rising water smashed against that house, but the water couldn’t shake the house because it was well built. But those who don’t put into practice what they hear are like a person who built a house without a foundation. The floodwater smashed against it and it collapsed instantly. It was completely destroyed. (Luke 6:46-49)

We come to the end of the Sermon on the Plain today. It is very similar to the way Matthew ends the Sermon on the Mount.

  • Jesus begins with a provocative question: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what I say?” I used to hear this question as accusatory or plaintive, but I think it’s neither. It’s simply a question meant to cause us to reflect. A leader you don’t obey is no leader at all
  • In other words, in the world of human behavior, in the world of religion and what we today call “Christianity,” the idea of Jesus is more compelling than Jesus’s actual teaching
  • Luke has been letting us overhear Jesus’s words to his disciples, so we need to understand these words are addressed to us as well. 
  • This is a point which heavily influences my own theology: Jesus’s teaching saves
  • Theology about Jesus is called Christology. One of the key questions in Christology is, “How does Jesus save us?” The answer that is dominant in evangelical Christianity, and has been most powerful in the last few centuries, has been that Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross is how Jesus saves us. But in the last few decades, there has been a renewed focus on how Jesus’s incarnation and liberating ministry saves us. This area of theology is called Atonement Theory.  
  • I think we need a renewed focus on how Jesus’s teaching saves. This is why I cling to this passage: It’s like a person building a house by digging deep and laying the foundation on bedrock. 
  • Luke’s version of this saying has an important difference from Matthew’s, who just says “build on rock.” Luke’s Jesus says, “Dig deep and build on rock.” Dig deep. These teachings are not surface-level education that you know with your head. This has to be deep in your inner self, as we saw yesterday (see v. 45). 
  • The verb Jesus uses points to the fact that a “flood” is not simply rising water—the Greek word is more like “smash” or “burst out.” I imagine Hurricane Katrina. It was a natural disaster that exposed the deep class and racial inequality in our country. It showed that our nation’s rhetoric about equality and being a land of opportunity is a sham. It exposed a house with no foundation. 
  • If we would truly be followers of Jesus, we have to excavate: dig down deep in ourselves individually and as a society. Jesus’s teaching on the transforming power of love is not just “be polite to people.” It is about self-knowledge and God-knowledge, and that you cannot know one without the other.

Teacher, be my Lord. Lord, be my Teacher. Teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

The Sermon on the Plain: The Inner Self


A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit, nor does a bad tree produce good fruit. Each tree is known by its own fruit. People don’t gather figs from thorny plants, nor do they pick grapes from prickly bushes. A good person produces good from the good treasury of the inner self, while an evil person produces evil from the evil treasury of the inner self. The inner self overflows with words that are spoken. (Luke 6:43-45)

  • Do you remember the “tree and fruit” metaphor from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount? (You can read about it here and here). There, it was about being able to identify “false prophets” who are “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” Here, Jesus is illustrating something different.
  • Jesus has just said, “Don’t judge” (Luke 6:37-38), and he followed up by cautioning us against aspiring to spiritual leadership of other people, because we are lousy at getting splinters out of others’ eyes (Luke 6:29-42).
  • So these words about “good trees” and “bad trees” are not intended to be a tool for evaluating or judging others’ worth or their spiritual progress.
  • If anything, it is a reminder to let people be. Are you after figs? Don’t go seeking them among thorns. Are you after grapes? Then go handle grape vines, not poison ivy.
  • On the other hand, seek fruit from fruitful people.
  • Don’t miss that the distinction is not just between good and bad fruit, but between different kinds of fruit. “Each tree is known by its own” The emphasis is also in the Greek. To extend the metaphor, why would you expect figs from a grape vine, or grapes from a fig tree?
  • If Jesus is still riffing on the “don’t judge” idea, he may be inviting us to ask, “Am I seeking the wrong kind of fruit from this person?”
  • Notice that there is also a distinction between fruit trees and plants that cannot be expected to produce fruit. It is senseless to blame a thistle for being a thistle. People do what they do. Why do we presume to fix them?
  • For the second metaphor, I like the CEB’s word choice here: “the good treasury of the inner self.” Older translations say, “the abundance of the heart,” which is a beautiful phrase, but we tend to sentimentalize “heart.”
  • “The inner self” — I’ve been pointing out how some of what Jesus says relates to Eastern traditions. Hinduism and Buddhism reflect deeply on the nature of the Self. Judaism’s prophetic tradition focuses more on social and political relations. But Judaism’s wisdom tradition does delve into the dynamics of our internal world and our character. Psalm 51:6 says, “…you want truth in the most hidden places; you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.”
  • Jesus talks about “the inner self” because our outer world is a manifestation of our inner one. Jesus has moved from talking about “judging others” to focusing on what’s going on inside us. It’s easier for us to ascribe suffering and conflict “out there” to the external world. But the reality is that we hate most what is inside of us. We cannot find peace because we are not at peace within.

Wisdom Beyond the Universe, I am often caught up in the world of blame and judgment. Teach me to bring my inner self in harmony with you.

The Sermon on the Plain: A Splinter in Your Eye


Photo by Sugar Pond (click for source)

Jesus also told them a riddle. “A blind person can’t lead another blind person, right? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? Disciples aren’t greater than their teacher, but whoever is fully prepared will be like their teacher. Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s or sister’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Brother, Sister, let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the log in your own eye? You deceive yourselves! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. (Luke 6:39-42)

We looked at the first two verses yesterday. Today we’ll put them in context with the rest of the famous parable.

  • This splinter/log metaphor works on so many levels.
    1. First, we all know how irritating it is to have a tiny speck in your eye. It itches, your eye waters, and you can hardly think of anything else. Can you imagine being oblivious to it?
    2. Occasionally I have asked a trusted friend to take an irritant out of my eye. “Can you see it?” I ask while I pull my eyelids up and to the side.
    3. I also know how reluctant I am to touch someone else’s eye. It’s a delicate operation.
    4. I’m often stunned that these jelly-filled orbs in my face do so much. How precious they are to me! And how frustrating when they don’t work!
    5. The image of someone with a log or beam in their eye is supposed to be ridiculous. It’s like an octopus on roller skates. Yet we see in real life how this works all the time when it comes to judging others. Preachers, politicians, pundits—all are notorious for being judge-y hypocrites, but they certainly don’t have a monopoly on the practice.
    6. When you do see someone with something in their eye, doesn’t it make your own eye hurt or itch in sympathy? You naturally want to help them, because of the discomfort it causes you. I think about the way I am often embarrassed for other people. But my discomfort is really discomfort with my own experiences, not theirs.
  • What is it about religion in general that gives people license to be judge-y? How can a religion based on the man who said these things be so moralistic?
  • The CEB chooses to translate “Hypocrite!” as “You deceive yourselves!” I think this is an interesting choice. Matthew loves the word the most. He uses it a dozen times in his gospel. Luke only uses it a few times, but this is one of those instances.
  • By putting the “blind leading the blind” and “splinter/log” sayings together, Luke, more clearly than Matthew, makes this saying about spiritual leadership. There is the possibility of someone becoming fully prepared for the delicate operation of teaching and leading.
  • You will be like your teacher. How often do you see Jesus judging people? He heals and liberates. Someone who has become like Jesus, and is fully prepared to remove splinters, simply isn’t going to go around poking their fingers into people’s eyeballs
  • This section is about seeing clearly. How confident are you that you see clearly? Do you think you see clearly enough to help others see? Do you think you see clearly enough to help without hurting? How many people are walking around doing harm, all the while convinced that they are helping? This paragraph makes me realize how dangerous “ministry” can be.

All-seeing One, my vision is limited. Help me see what I need to see for myself before I presume to help others.

The Sermon on the Plain: The Clueless Leading the Helpless


photo by Ashish Gupta

Jesus also told them a riddle. “A blind person can’t lead another blind person, right? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? Disciples aren’t greater than their teacher, but whoever is fully prepared will be like their teacher.” (Luke 6:39-40 CEB).

  • The CEB (Common English Bible) uses the word “riddle” instead of “parable” here, which I think is an interesting choice. The parables are often like riddles, where the meaning is hidden. I’m not sure the meaning is particularly hidden here.
  • But the context of these two verses is Luke puts them in the Sermon on the Plain, between “do not judge others” and “why do you see the splinter in your neighbor’s eye, but not the log in your own?” Luke makes these verses about why we shouldn’t judge or criticize others. “Do not presume to be a spiritual leader,” he seems to say.
  • But Matthew uses the same two sayings in two different places in his gospel (Matthew 15:14 and Matthew 10:24). There they have a different context: “blind leading the blind” refers to hypocritical religious leaders, and “disciples aren’t greater than their teacher” is a warning that disciples can be expected to be harassed by religious leaders the same way Jesus is.
  • This is a good example of the way different authors hear different meanings in Jesus’s sayings. To me, it is evidence that Luke and Matthew are drawing from the same source document (Q), but interpret it differently.
  • So it shouldn’t be any surprise that faithful Christians today come to different conclusions about what Jesus means! If I’m to take this passage seriously, I should be doubly circumspect about criticizing others—both because of what it says, and how it came to be written!
  • The earliest recorded example of the “blind leading the blind” is from the Katha Upanishad, a sacred text of Hinduism, which was written somewhere between 200 and 800 years before Jesus: “Ignorant of their ignorance, yet wise in their own esteem, these deluded men, proud of their vain learning, go round and round like the blind led by the blind” (2:5).
  • Some people argue that Jesus was aware of the spiritual teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism. It is certainly possible that the metaphor arose independently, and it occurred to more than one person in several centuries. But we also already know that Jesus quoted other religious leaders like Rabbi Hillel, who said “What is hateful to you, do not do to another; this is all the Law and the Prophets.” It would almost be more shocking if Jesus was not influenced by the spiritual teachings of other faith traditions. He even referenced pagan mythology in his teaching.
  • Both of these quotes are about spiritual leadership. In context, I believe Jesus is saying one of the reasons we should not presume to judge others is that most of us are not in the position to be spiritual leaders. “Lead yourself first,” Jesus seems to be saying.
  • Many of us have been on “trust walks,” where we are blindfolded and led by someone else. These can be powerful forms of embodied learning. Those of us who are not physically blind should try navigating the world without sight. Are you able to even stand on one leg with your eyes closed? Try it!
  • We also need to recognize that this metaphor is ableist. Blind people are able to navigate the world, often very well, to the surprise of the sighted. “The helpless led by the clueless” might be a more inclusive phrase. If you try the exercise above repeatedly, standing on one leg with eyes closed, you will probably find that you are able to do it better with practice. How much more so those who refine their senses without sight over the course of years.

Teacher, lead us to humble wisdom.

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.