Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye yet fail to perceive the plank in your own eye? (Matt 7:3)
We recently laid down a lot of reclaimed hardwood flooring from an old farmhouse in our Mill. So we’ve handled more than our share of “planks” lately. And we’ve got fresh experience at having sawdust in our eyes and splinters all over the place. But we did manage to keep the boards out of our eye sockets!
Jesus was talking to folks who’d been following him for a while. OK, he seems to be saying, you are really taking this “following” thing seriously… Good for you! But hold on a second… Being a follower of mine doesn’t give you the authorization to adopt a judgmental attitude toward anyone else. Those who “judge” in such a way will, in like manner, be “judged” – not by people (would that really matter?), but by God, the real judge.
Jesus comes out with a question that’s just plain funny, but does so to make a point that really is deadly serious. The follower who takes up the task of judging what someone else is doing usurps the place of God… and, in so doing, becomes answerable to him. In forgoing forgiveness and love, the judgmental person gives evidence of his own arrogance and self-righteousness – which can’t play well before the bench of the Eternal.
Someone else has a “speck of sawdust” in their eye… well, that could be a problem, but it may not be as bad as you think… It may be a mere irritation, and even that only to him… not to you. Or it may actually be a situation where your help in removing it could be a real benefit.
But you have a 2-by-4 in your own eye, Pal… which makes giving an ocular exam something you really ought not be doing right now. Jesus isn’t saying that it’s wrong to help your brother remove the speck of dust in his eye, but it is wrong for a person with a “plank” in his eye to offer such help. (Who would want to be on the receiving end of that procedure?) Adopting a gentle spirit of self-examination can dislodge that log from one’s eye… at which point you might actually be able (even held responsible) to help a brother or sister remove that pesky “speck”.
Jesus use of a question here is interesting. He could have leveled an accusation: “You are being judgmental!” – but he doesn’t – he asks them WHY they are that way… This is one area where I don’t think we’re intended to take this use of the question form as a direct example to follow. (“Don’t try this at home…” Questions like “Why are you such a jerk?” aren’t really questions at all.) You can’t ask a “why” question unless you really know “what” is going on. In this case, though, Jesus certainly did.
At a deeper level, though, we can ask this question of ourselves. And, having done so, we can repeat the process with others who are open to our input. Where is my focus? Why is it so easy for us to “see” faults in others when it’s simultaneously so tricky to discern our own faults? It’s framed as an issue of perception. The clear implication is that our perception becomes more dependable after a successful process of self-examination. Is your vision clear?
Could it be that I actually need others to help me see and address my own imperfections so that I can see more clearly? Could it be that focusing on the faults of others could actually “blind” me to things that I need to see about myself?
This even goes to the level of how we understand (and, therefore, communicate) the gospel. Do we look to identify how other people are, in fact, “sinners,” and then use that as an “introduction” to their need for a savior? Karl Barth might have had something when he disputed the “logical priority” we place on sin versus salvation. He thought that saying “You need to know you are a sinner in order to grasp your need for a Savior” was just prideful… as if we ourselves could diagnose our own soul-sickness (apart from the revelation of who God is and what God does in Christ). What if the priority is to point people to Jesus, so that, being exposed to the reality of his incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection, people understand that, in believing, they actually have a savior?
So why DO we seem to place so much emphasis on the failings of others… when focusing on our own holds so much promise for being able to illustrate, with first-person stories, what it means that Jesus is our savior and our king?