“What’s That in Your Eye?” by Interim Pastor Tim Morphew
Matthew says (4:25) that as soon as Jesus started talking about the Kingdom of GOD, and healing the sick & troubled people who came to him, “great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.”
Something about that Jesus of Nazareth. He goes about preaching and teaching that the Kingdom of God has come near and healing the sick. And when you’re with him you can feel that it’s true. He’s like nobody we’ve ever seen or heard before! Could that Jesus of Nazareth be the promised one?
What’s happening? Jesus starts proclaiming the Kingdom of God and healing people. And people are so drawn to him that great crowds of people follow him! And (5:1) when Jesus sees the crowd, he goes up the mountain and sits down. And his disciples draw near because everybody knows that when the rabbi sits down, he’s getting ready to teach.
Jesus sits down, and his disciples gather round, and crowds of people draw near. We too draw near. This summer, we at Creekside draw near to hear what Jesus will say, to listen and try to learn how be part of the Kingdom of God that Jesus announces.
Today we hear Jesus warn:
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”
We’ve heard that before, even at work, at school, in every-day conversation… We say it to remind ourselves and others away from saying judgmental things about others. Popular culture repeats the warning: “Judge not lest ye be judged” – sometimes to promote a sort of ‘anything goes’ tolerance that wants people to accept attitudes, words and deeds that are harmful, hurtful, destructive – even deadly.
Is that what Jesus meant? Was Jesus saying that anything goes? People can say and do whatever they want when he said “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged”?
No, I don’t think so… No, if you read all of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, or all of the red-letter words of Jesus in the Bible, I don’t know how a person can seriously believe that Jesus teaches that “anything goes”. Remember that Jesus is announcing and describing how things are in the Kingdom of God, when God’s will is done on earth as in heaven.
Indeed, Jesus calls his followers follow his teachings, to think and act like him and not like the gentiles, not like the Pharisees or the other misguided religious authorities, whom he often criticized.
Remember that when he went public with his ministry, Jesus picked up his cousin John’s message (Matthew 4:17): “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.” To repent and follow Jesus is to choose his way over any other way. And throughout his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus keeps pointing out how the ways of the Kingdom of God are different.
“You have heard it said… but I say unto you…” In next Sunday’s gospel lesson, we will hear Jesus contrast the easy way and the hard way (Matthew 7:13&14). One way leads to life, the other to destruction. Jesus is certainly not saying anything goes. But he is very clearly warning us against judging.
So what is Jesus warning us about?? Fortunately, he offers a cartoonish illustration to explain what he means.
3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
What are you talking about Jesus? I don’t have a log in my eye! If I did, I would surely know it, wouldn’t I?
OK but what about the problems that bother you so much in others that you have never recognized in yourself?
Here’s a personal example:
When hiking the Appalachian Trail, I prefer to stay in the 3-sided shelters that are built at irregular intervals along the trail. A lot of hikers plan their days to overnight at the shelters, and as evening falls, hiker’s gather in, eat their dinners, talk about life on the trail and rest up for the next day’s adventures…
Not always, but pretty often, someone in the shelter will start snoring. I have been woken out of a sound sleep by the sounds of chainsaws… So smart hikers come prepared with ear-plugs. Usually the ear-plugs work. But sometimes the snoring is louder than ear-plugs can withstand. And it is no fun when you’re so tired but you can’t get to sleep. At such times, I have had some pretty judgmental thoughts about snorers who kept me awake.
Then somewhere along the way, one of my best hiking buddies, “Ragnar” (that’s his “trail name”), with whom I have hiked hundreds of miles, began to complain about my snoring. Who? Me? A snorer? I didn’t want to believe it.
But you know what happens… Sooner or later when you’re just falling asleep and you’re alone in the shelter or in bed you wake yourself up with a terrible chainsaw snort and you begin to realize. And it happens again… and then again until you can deny it no longer. I am a snorer!
To re-word the illustration: how can you get so upset about your brother’s snoring when you are a worse snorer than he is?!? Who? Me? A snorer?
So I began to carry little packages of ear-plugs to share and I would confess – apologetically – to my shelter-mates that I am a snorer and I had new, clean ear-plugs to share with anyone who might need them. Most of the time anyone who had been out on the trail for very long already had their own ear-plugs or some way of blocking the noise.
The hardest time for me was in 2015 when “Pockets”, “Ragnar” and I hiked the AT in New Hampshire and Maine, when “R” began to complain regularly about my terrible snoring. I really felt bad about it and tried my best not to snore. – But with limited success, according to “R”.
But then one night I heard snoring coming from his bed. And “Pockets” heard it too. And “P” began to defend me a little. We both began to tell “R” that we had heard him snore. And when “R” would say something about my snoring, “P” would say that it didn’t bother him…
7 “Do not judge” Jesus warns, “so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgment you make you will be judged…” Have you ever noticed how the faults of which some people accuse others are faults that the rest of us can see in them?? Psychologists might call that “projection.”
As somebody reminded us in Sunday School last Sunday, when we point a finger at others, there are three more fingers pointing back at us!”
How easy to see the flaws and faults of others. How hard it is to recognize the very same faults and flaws in ourselves… Why is that?
In my experience, judging or finding fault with others lets me imagine that I am somehow better than them. – That I am less guilty, less flawed – or more healthy emotionally or spiritually…
But to the contrary, Jesus warns that I am not at all better. In fact, he says that I have a log in my eye! I am a worse snorer. I am as bad a driver as any driver who ever upset me. The flaws and faults that most bother me in others might be the flaws and faults that I hate in myself so much that I refuse to recognize that they are even there.
And what good does our fault-finding do? Where does it leave us at work, at school, in our church family if we are constantly judging or thinking critical thoughts about every-body else? It doesn’t help anyone! Imagining myself better than somebody else doesn’t draw me closer to them. It doesn’t really make their life or my life any better. Judging, critical thoughts, fault finding doesn’t make anything better unless something changes, unless someone is able to change for the better, unless a person is able to overcome a fault or a flaw. And what does it take for people to really change?
Think about how hard it is to change any personal habit on which we depend to cope with every-day life: over-eating, over-dieting, gambling, shopping, hoarding, chemical abuse, alcohol, coffee, chocolate… Does anyone respond well to having someone point out their flaws, their faults or their addictions to them?? I don’t. Do you???
Who is most able to reach an addict and help him or her take a step away from their addiction? Another recovering addict. What is the most successful program for alcoholics? Alcoholics anonymous. – For drug addiction? Al-Anon. Support and accountability groups of people who have been there, who have first recognized their own flaws, their very broken-ness, who, in various stages of their recovery support each other, hold each other accountable, are available to each other whenever there’s a need or crisis, and who are there to pick you up when you fall…
But remember what has to come first in those programs. Do you remember the first step of AA’s 12 step program? Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
What did you say Jesus?
5…first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
We cannot really help anybody else with their problem until we have honestly faced our own garbage, our own flaws and faults and failures…
Can you imagine going to get your new eye-glasses, and the technician is checking the fit. And they’re having you look this way & that and you look at her nose and see that there’s a smear or a smudge on her lens? Before I clean anybody else’s glasses, I had better make sure my own are clean, to be sure that the dirt I’m wiping is on that lens and not my own.
“Judge not”, Jesus warns, because judging is a lot like finger-pointing. It focuses on what is wrong with someone else. And if I want to be part of the Kingdom of God, my first question shouldn’t be, “What about him or What about her? No, my first question needs to be, What about me? My first question needs to be, am I fit for the Kingdom of God? Do the ways I think and talk and act fit with the Reign of God as Jesus describes it in his Sermon on the Mount?
Some years ago, I discovered a BBC series called Father Brown, starring British actor Mark Williams in the title role. Father Brown was created by writer, philosopher, lay theologian G.K. Chesterton.
“Chesterton describes Father Brown as a short, stumpy Roman Catholic priest, with shapeless clothes, a large umbrella, and an uncanny insight into human evil… Unlike the better-known fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown’s methods tend to be intuitive rather than deductive. He explains his method in [the episode] “The Secret of Father Brown”: “You see, I had murdered them all myself…. I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully. I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was.”
The way G.K. Chesterton has Father Brown explain his strategy illustrates Jesus’ warning to us in today’s gospel lesson. He says, “I had murdered them all myself…” Father Brown looks into his own heart and soul. And he confesses the dark truth that I suspect is true for each and all of us. That in a perfect storm of circumstances, many – maybe any of us are capable of doing very bad things – even murder.
Maybe the best way to sort out the mystery of another other person’s faults, shortcomings and sins is to first look into my own heart and wonder whether there are any ways in which I might have a speck, or a splinter, or a log of such sin in my eye or in my heart…
“Judge not”, Jesus warns, because judging is a lot like finger-pointing. It focuses on what is wrong with someone else. And if I want to be part of the Kingdom of God, my first question shouldn’t be, “What about him or What about her? Or What somebody else. No, my first question needs to be, What about me? My first question needs to be, am I fit for the Kingdom of God? Do the ways I think and talk and act fit with the Reign of God as Jesus describes it in his Sermon on the Mount?
Besides, judging is a pretty useless activity. It doesn’t really make anything or anyone any better. Because we can’t change or “fix” anybody but ourselves. Maybe that’s why Jesus urges us to do what we can to get the logs out of our own eyes… Maybe you’re farther along with that than I am, but I think that getting the log out of my own eye and the judgmental spirit out of my own heart is a big project! – probably a life-long project!
I wonder if I can get any help with that??
Oh! I know! Psalm 139:23-24! Maybe you can pray it with me: Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in Your way everlasting. AMEN!