As humans, we seem to have an innate desire and ability to judge others. We might feel a bit guilty about doing it; we might be very quiet about it; we might even restrict our judgements to a very few carefully defined areas of life–but in the end, we are all going to make judgements about people and their actions. Not even Jesus’ words from Matthew 7.1, “Do not judge…” actually stop us from judging. These words might slow us down a little and drive our judgemental opinions underground but they really don’t stop us.
And that may be why Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to tell us about people with planks and sawdust in their eyes. This is one of those Biblical passages that reveal Jesus’ sense of humour–it we forget for a moment that these are supposed to be “holy” words, we are treated to a scene worthy of a Three Stooges movie.
A man with a huge plank in his eye walks around, pretending he is fine. He encounters another man struggling with a small piece of sawdust in his eye and immediately sets about scolding the man for getting the sawdust in his eye while at the same time moving in the remove the offending sawdust. Then the fun really begins. The plank bumps the sawdust man, knocking his down. As plank man reaches down to help him up (plank man is obviously a Type A fixer), the plank bangs against the ground, jolting plank man and causing severe pain. Sawdust man gets up, only to be knocked down again as plank man shifts position to relieve the pain in his eyes so he can remove the speck of sawdust from sawdust man’s eye.
Anyway, Jesus has a solution to the avoid the whole slapstick scene. He says to plank man the words we read in Matthew 7.5, “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.” (NIV) The whole comedy falls apart when plank man no longer has a plank in his eye.
It seems to me that Jesus is telling us that judgement begins at home. We look to ourselves first. One of the pop psychology notions that people like to repeat actually has some truth behind it–we often get most upset by what we see of ourselves in others. It becomes much easier to judge and condemn someone else for doing what we are doing than it is to judge and deal with ourselves.
Following Jesus’ words about first removing our plank, maybe we need to be willing to turn our judgements around before we act on them. When I see something in others that upsets me and just begs to be judged, maybe I need to spend some time in front of a spiritual/psychological/emotional/behavioural mirror looking for the same or a similar thing in my life. That often requires some painful and difficulty self-honesty, which is why we prefer to find it in others.
We find the issues in ourselves and we judge ourselves as being in need of help. Removing the plank will involve getting the help we need to remove the plank and since it is in our eye, the removal will sometimes be as difficult and painful as keeping the plank in our eye. It will likely take serious time–the plank may be painful but it is our plank and we are attached to it on some deep level of our being. It will definitely require that we ask for and accept the help that God so freely offers to all of us, as well as the help of others, regardless of the size of the plank we carry in our eye.
While we are in the process of dealing with our plank, we are disqualified from judging others, at least in our plank area–if we judge others while we have the plank, both we and the other person are going to be hurt and neither the plank nor the sawdust will be removed. But once our plank is gone, we have a whole different way of relating to people. We can share the story of dealing with our plank and offer to use our experience to help people deal with their sawdust–or even their plank.
We are still making a judgement that the sawdust they have is a problem–but since we began with ourselves by judging our plank, we are going to be more graceful and loving as we offer to help with the sawdust. We will be God’s agents in the process, able to really help someone because we have found a way.
May the peace of God be with you.