Weighting the Scales of Grace

Weighting the Scales of Grace

Judging our Neighbors.

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. For the measure you use, it will be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:35-38).

Let’s say a driver seems to cut you off in traffic, or maybe someone apparently gives you a scornful look. What is your reaction, and how are you to think about what that other person did? In the minds of the ancient rabbis, those are the questions that were debated and discussed in depth and at length. They would ask questions like… What scripture would apply? What is the right thing to do? What would God expect of us? Is there more than one right answer here?

For centuries, one of the hot topics in rabbinic circles had to do with how to interpret Leviticus 19:15: “You shall not do injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.” And the two most popular interpretations during Jesus’ day were, “Judge everyone with the scales weighted in their favor,” and “Judge every person in favorable terms.” It is exciting to know that Jesus was smack in the middle of this very practical discussion, and that his words were intended to expand on this subject of how to judge our neighbor fairly.

Clearly, Jesus accepted what was popular in rabbinic teaching during that time… Give others the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume the worst motivation for someone’s questionable behavior. Believe the best about people, because only God knows the heart and can therefore judge rightly. Drop the critical spirit before you become an incurable cynic. Don’t jump to conclusions about a suspicious action, but learn to make allowances. If you believe the worst about people, and judge them with contempt, you are acting as if you know what people are thinking and why they are thinking it. Instead, weight your scales of justice in that person’s favor, even if we think they might not “deserve” it.

Jesus seemed to support all those ideas, but he increased the challenge by focusing heavily on the main reasons for showing mercy… Mercy toward others because of God’s mercy towards me; I give grace to others and allow them to have apparent weak moments, because God gives grace to me and allows me to show my humanity as well. I weight the scales in my neighbor’s favor, because God graciously weights the scales in my favor, despite my own sinfulness. Pretend evil doesn’t exist? Of course not. Excuse sinful behavior? No again. Moral accountability? Yes indeed. Judging favorably doesn’t excuse bad behavior, it instead graciously assumes a forgivable explanation for it. In terms of what’s going on in other’s hearts, God only knows. In our own hearts, which we do know, seek mercy, grace, and peace. Judgment is mine, says the Lord. After all, maybe that driver didn’t even see you, and that sour look came from a sour stomach… Who knows? So what. Give grace.

“So be generous with others, magnanimous even! Isn’t that how the Father treats everyone, whether we deserve it or not? He created a magnificent world for us all to enjoy, given us the very breath of life. He causes the warming sun to shine, and provides the nourishing rain as well, whether we’ve been naughty or nice, grateful or ungrateful. Really now, who do we think we are, judging our neighbor without grace like we do? Listen to our marching orders straight from the King… Love others the way that God loves us.” ( a little riff on Luke 6, Matthew 5:45, James 4:11-12, Romans 14:10, and 1 John 4:11)