Friday, September 26, 2003

Sawdust & Two-by-Fours

This is part 3 of series of essays on what Jesus says about judging others. To start from the beginning, click here.

Seeing the Wooden Beam in Our Eyes

Jesus continued his discourse on judging by saying,

"Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." (Matthew 7:3-5)

What does it mean to have a wooden beam in the eye? That is what I want to discourse on next.

We tend to put those we judge beyond hope and, at the same time, elevate ourselves. This creates a blindness to our own faults and need for change. Perhaps, more importantly, it keeps us from doing the hard and caring work of helping a brother or sister do better. Although Jesus speaks of the beam, and so will I, He also speaks of people who have specks in their eyes. Think back to the days of Jesus where the best mirrors, for those who could afford them, were polished metal--not the aluminized coated glass we have today. When you had a speck in your eye, you needed someone to help you get it out.

Seeing clearly to help others get specks out of their eyes is the goal. Removing the fatal beam in our own eyes is the means.

An event in Jesus' life illustrates this principle well.

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax booth. “Follow me,” he said to him. And he got up and followed him. As Jesus was having a meal in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Jesus and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this he said, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. Go and learn what this saying means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13)

Since Jesus was among sinners, the Pharisees quizzed Jesus' followers about His actions (Jesus was closer to them physically than they cared to get). Their actions and body language show that they believed such people to be beyond hope. Jesus, though, was just the opposite and was there to provide healing from sin and sickness. The Pharisees viewed the situation  with beamed eyes. Jesus with eyes of mercy and compassion.

The beam symbolism has several meanings. The first is hyperbolic. By this I mean that Jesus used hyperbole to compare our concern for small failures in others while ignoring our large failures. The second treats the wooden beam as a weapon. Often when we judge, we judge unfairly and it may be likened to hitting them over the head with a two-by-four. The third is that the beam would take up so much space in the eye, that it renders us blind. Consequently, we need to:

  • Have a fair assessment of ourselves.
  • Have hearts of genuine kindness and mercy.
  • Learn to see clearly.

So how do we see this beam we should pluck out of our eye? The first step is to see how quickly we move to judge others. Consider the following verse:

Love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9) 

When you read this verse, did you think of abhorring evil in others or in yourself. If you answered, "In myself."--and you were honest--then you are counted among the few. Pay attention here. In the context of love being without hypocrisy, do you think that Paul meant abhorring evil in others or abhorring evil in ourselves? Surely we are not to think that Paul meant that we should only love others when they are good! That goes against the entire section in this part of Romans and Jesus' teaching about loving our enemies.

As I pointed out previously, there is the trap set at the end of  Romans 1 that is sprung in the first verses in Romans 2. So it behooves us to examine our lives and see who, what, when, where, and how we judge others. It behooves us to shift the focus, as we read scripture, from how it applies to others we know to how it applies to ourselves. It behooves us to begin to understand what mercy is.

Mercy can come in small forms. I realized this one day when some friends and I went to have breakfast in a restaurant. The service was awful. The waitress was late coming to our table. She lost our orders. We could never capture her attention. Our coffee cups had rare and frequently lukewarm refills. It was so bad, that I began to systematically reduce the tip that I was going to give. About the time it dropped to zero, an internal voice suggested that withholding the tip was justice and giving a generous tip was mercy. It was at that small moment that the verses about 'showing mercy to be shown mercy' and 'not judging so that I would not be judged' hit home. I put down a 20% tip and have tipped generously ever since--NOT as a means to be shown mercy, but as a reminder of the concepts. When I judged this waitress, I undoubtedly had a wooden beam in my eye. She may have been a single mom with a child that had a fitful night. Then I thought of the times that I had given poor service to my employer for lesser reasons.

There is much here on which to meditate. I find that I am once more reflecting on several current situations.

Monday: Removing the Beam

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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