“Do not judge or you will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-4 (NIV)
I don’t recall studying this Matthew passage as a child in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School or Confirmation Class. When it showed up every three years as the Gospel lesson at Sunday worship, it was read from the King James Version with words that were confusing to a child. When I heard the word “mote”, I equated it to dust floating in the air; the word “beam” was a part of a ship; and “the measure ye mete” – well, the butcher weighs meat, not measures it. Later, as an adult reading from the Revised Standard Version, the “mote” became a “speck” and the “beam” a “log”. This somewhat clarified the lesson Jesus was trying to teach.
Wood is a big part of my family story. One grandfather was a carriage builder; the other worked at a lumber mill. My ex and one son-in-law are carpenters. I love the smell of newly cut wood. I am familiar with hammers, nails, levels, and squares. So this passage from Matthew really hit home later when I read it in the New International Version (above). ”Sawdust” and “planks” make total sense to a gal who’s spent quality time downwind of a table saw! The relative difference in size between a speck of sawdust and a 2×12 plank was understandable. It would be impossible to perform the delicate procedure of tweezing out a speck of sawdust from someone else’s eye with your own vision totally obscured by a plank. The lesson was now obvious: “get your own house in order (like THAT”S possible!) before you go after others.”
A painful speck of sawdust makes the eye water, and it’s hard to see clearly; we should feel empathy for those dealing with their personal specks of sawdust! But a chunk of lumber completely blocks all vision. Were Jesus’ listeners so self-righteous that they failed to grasp what a problem their personal planks were to them; am I? Or had they carried those planks for so long, they were now completely oblivious to them; is there an element of this truth in my life? One of the most challenging spiritual tasks is to approach the world without being judgmental. We may think we can relate as equals to people who are different from us. Yet in-the-moment, faced with concrete circumstances, our spontaneous thoughts, uncensored words and knee-jerk reactions belie that assumption, revealing “planks” we have hidden or ignored.
Lord, may I truly hear your words. Help me willingly notice those huge obstacles which you would have me address. Give me your power to work on them, and your grace to forgive myself for neglecting them so long. And, when I think of others who struggle with sin, replace my critical spirit with one of compassion and love. Amen