October 2023

‘for the measure you give will be the measure you get back’ (Luke 6:38) NRSV.  

At first glance, this Saying might unsettle us, conjuring fear of judgement.  And if God is love, then surely His standards cannot become our imperfect ones?  It seems to recommend Christian goodness driven by fear.  Self-improvement motivated by the desire to improve our own Heavenly ‘chances’, appears transactional. 

Yet it is not necessarily that God’s standards will shrink to ours, but that ours might, if we could only mirror His loving kindness, become like His.  Jesus has just recommended loving our enemies (Luke 6. 27-36).  He is not then talking of punishment here, but of mercy, a much harder business of which to be a part. 

He has just turned the Christian world on its head in the Beatitudes (Luke 6. 20-26), reversing our expectations that worldly success and comfort are desirable.  Instead we should welcome being poor, hungry, sorrowful, hated, harmed and excluded as paths to God-knowledge.  In this context, Jesus suggests we welcome the ‘measure’ of the Father’s generosity; His sheer extravagant all-forgiving love which floods our lives, just as the grain of this image overwhelms the receiver’s capacity to receive. 

For the verse before the Saying is crucial: ‘Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together; shaken down and overflowing, will be poured into your lap’.  Our faith is about relationship.  We are all, as the Beatitudes have just shown, one.  Becoming mercy, not just showing it, opens up channels through which God’s mercy can flow (our kindnesses are always His).  When we cannot forgive, cannot love, cannot receive each other, then we stop God’s flow.  This is the real harm we do.  His love would flow like a life-flooding river through the world, healing and feeding it, if it did not meet individually hardened hearts. 

The Synoptic Gospel writers are so eager that we realise this, that our Saying is found in all three (Matt 7:2, Mark 4: 24 and in Luke).  It is also fundamental to the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’.  Our forgiveness manifests God’s forgiveness and vice versa.  This is the reason that He sent his only son to die.  Here is how the world’s redemption, in love flooding down from the cross into the crosses of our own lives, is made real.