April 21, 2021
There’s a difficult bit of teaching in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus talks about picking the sawdust out of your neighbor’s eye. The idea is that anyone who is going to set about cleaning the eyes of their neighbors should check their own eyes to make sure they aren’t in worse shape. Jesus’ humorous description is of a guy with a log hanging off his own face while looking for specks of others. The analogy shouldn’t be too surprising coming from a carpenter, who likely had to deal with sawdust in his vision pretty regularly. The cool thing about this particular teaching is that it’s got all sorts of subtle elements to it. For starters, there’s the huge one related to hypocrisy. No one should presume to self-righteously correct the sins of others while ignoring their own. It goes a step further when we consider that there is no bigger sin in our own perception than the one the other guy is committing. This is mainly because we want to justify our own behavior while pointing out the bad acts of the guy on the other side of the table. My sin will always look worse to him than his own does. We see this every day in the political arena. Whenever one politician is caught in bad behavior (a sex scandal, stealing, hypocrisy, etc), his supporters will immediately resort to pointing out the sins of those on the other side of the aisle. The irony is that with all the finger pointing and blaming, very few people stop to question why we’re ok with any of it in the first place. Instead of using the other guy’s failures as a handle to drag him down by, it is perhaps an opportunity to those genuinely seeking to be better to help each other up. I think this is why Alcoholics Anonymous is an effective program. It’s a crowd of folks who own the fact that they have their own problems but use those struggles as a jumping off point for helping each other. This is a far better route to travel on the road to righteousness than trying to ignore your own shortcomings and police others’ choices. I believe this is where the church often stumbles. We are slow to recognize and own our need for grace and forgiveness from God. That’s really what the church is. It’s a hospital for sinners. Everyone there is in treatment for their sin, and God is The Great Physician healing us. He may use some of the patients to help out, but that ceases to be an effective approach when the patients begin to believe they are the doctors. The best thing I ever learned as a pastor is to be open about the fact that I don’t just have a log in my own eye. I’ve got a lumber yard in there. However, when I can own that and strive to grow spiritually and overcome the garbage that clouds my vision, I can help those around me do the same. I would argue that this is also our struggle as a culture. Anyone who ignores the shortcomings of their own guys in order to win the argument today, has ensured that they will not be a part of helping us all win together tomorrow. The name calling, vitriol, bitterness, vile behavior, etc. just makes it so no-one will ever consider the actual rational solutions we might offer later. The response will simply be to call out our past sin. The church and the culture needs to take a good hard look in the mirror. We need to own our own sin and wash out our own eyes before we can see clearly to help our neighbors.