What’s this business about specks and planks in the eye that Jesus talks about in his Sermon on the Mount? I’ve long been struck by it. This morning, reading through Luke’s gospel over my first cup of coffee (I’m now on my second), I came across it again, and I thought, What planks do I have in my own eyes?
I long ago got tired of Christians who major on trying to “fix” other people. My feeling is, Clean up the mess in your own backyard and you’ll be amazed at how much better your neighbor’s looks when you’re finished. In other words, true discernment begins with self-discernment. This is what Jesus was getting at.
Does that mean I’m not to exercise my critical thinking faculties regarding people’s behavior, their attitudes, and even the way they think? Of course not. I can’t function in life that way, neither can you, and neither did the New Testament writers nor the Lord himself. In Matthew 7:3–6, Jesus follows his admonishment about specks and planks by telling his disciples, in the very next breath, not to cast their pearls before swine. Telling swine from non-swine clearly requires judgment, right?
Lest you wonder, Jesus didn’t tread lightly with the Pharisees of his day, nor did Paul mince words about the Judaizers, nor did John about the Gnostics.
So let’s get some balance: the thing Jesus did not say was that we should never help our brother or sister remove the speck from their eye. What he said was that in order to do so, we’ve got to first make sure we ourselves are seeing accurately, and that requires dealing with our own issues. Why? Because we’re prone to deflect them onto others. The speck I’m so cocksure I see in your eye might be nothing more than the reflection of a log that’s in my own. Once I remove my log, I might just discover that your speck has disappeared as well, because it never existed in the first place. Then again, maybe it really does exist, but now I see it with a new clarity that allows me to approach it–and you–in a humbler, more merciful, more respectful, and more helpful and life-giving way. Because I no longer see myself as your fixer but as just a fellow-traveller with his own junk to deal with.
The reality is this: We have got to practice discretion in our lives. We’ve got to discern between good and evil, tell godliness from ungodliness, and distinguish healthy influences in our lives from unhealthy ones. We’ve got to sort between truth and error in how others handle the Scriptures. We’ve got to be able to look at sin and call if sinful just as surely as a doctor has got to be able to look at cancer and call it cancer.
But the place where it all begins is with us. If we don’t start there, we’ll handle other people wrongly. We’ll see problems in them that are really problems with ourselves. And the problems they really do have, we’ll be apt to mishandle because we haven’t cleared our own vision and applied the salve of grace to our eyes.
Of course, the problem with getting the beams out of our own eyes is, we can’t see those beams. What may be apparent to others is invisible to us. And to complicate matters, our beams may seem to us like wisdom. Indeed, they may be intimately entwined with genuine wisdom because they flow from the same source. When we get wounded, we ought to learn from the experience, and that learning is valuable; but that same wounding can also teach us lies that we need to unlearn. Insight and distortion can come from the same experience. Beam removal involves removing the distortion so the wisdom that remains becomes that much clearer and wiser.
I’m sure I have beams in my eyes that I’m not aware of. This morning, my prayer has been, “Lord, please help me remove them. Gently, okay? Some things, I’ve lived with for a long time. But I want to see more clearly tomorrow than I do today. So I entrust the process to your hands.”