Last Sunday, we watched a video, in which the Kid President advised us, “Before you say something about the BBQ sauce on someone’s else’s shirt, take a look at the BBQ sauce on your own shirt.” I don’t know about you, but that sounded very familiar to me.
Like when Jesus said, in Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too 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.”
I like the way The Message versions says it, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.”
James adds, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” James 4:12
And, in the words of the great prophet, Bob Marley, “Who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect… before you start pointing fingers… make sure your hands are clean!”
Confession: I judge people all of the time.
I judge people for what they wear. I judge people for how they talk. I judge people for how they spend money. I judge people for how often they miss church, or if they don’t go to church. I judge people for how educated they are, or not. I judge people for where they are from. I judge people for how they drive. I judge people for talking too loud on their phones – I don’t need to hear that. I’ve judged old people and I’ve judged young people. I even judge people for judging people.
I’ve judged other Christians. I’ve judged non-Christians. I’ve judged other pastors. I’ve judged the President. I’ve judged family members. I’ve even judged some of you – most of you – maybe, all of you! Maybe, I’ve judged you this morning.
And, I know for a fact, you judge me to. It just goes with the territory of being a pastor.
We are judging, judgmental, judge-ful, judgers! And, Jesus says… “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” For a bunch of judging judgers, this is NOT good news!
And, to make matters worse, we feel so superior and self-righteous when we do it. That’s called pride – and it’s a sin – and it’s gross.
Years ago, when I started a church in Port St. Lucie, I intentionally marketed our church as a place for people that didn’t normally feel welcome in church – because of their pasts, or because of how they dressed, etc. And, that’s who came. I had clean-cut professionals, and scruffy blue-collar laborers, bikers, builders, landscapers, construction workers, tradesmen, addicts, the bankrupt, poor people, divorcees, former-inmates and current-inmates, a tug boat captain and a Coast Guard officer, a former stripper, a bunch of punk kids from the neighborhood – and everything in between. In order to help anyone and everyone feel welcome, I grew my hair out long, had my ears pierced, got a tattoo, and wore jeans and t-shirt. Lots of “church people” came to our church, got one look at me, and never came back – and that was fine. Lot’s more came, who wouldn’t feel welcome in any other church, looked at me, and stayed. I always figured if someone couldn’t handle my long hair, then our church wasn’t the right place for them.
Later, when I became a campus minister, I still had long hair and earrings. But, that created a problem I didn’t expect. As a campus minister, I preached in churches, like ours, to raise money to support our ministry. Time after time, I showed up at churches, where I was scheduled to preach on a Sunday morning, robe and Bible in arm, and was completely ignored. Now, I’m not easy to miss – especially with long hair. At one glance, you know if I am a regular attender, or not. Time after time, it was obvious that, until they found out I was the visiting pastor, that I was not wanted or welcome.
I eventually had to cut my hair, because it was getting in the way of raising money for my campus ministry.
The truth is, the only reason I don’t have long hair today is that it’s just too much trouble to grow back, it’s too hot in South Florida, and I don’t want to deal with the complaints. And, that there would be complaints, is a major problem! I always tell people; I still have long hair in my heart!
In 2012, a book was written, called UnChristian, based on an extensive study of non-Church-going young adults conducted by the Barna Research Group. The book reveals that nearly 9-out-of-10 young adults believe that the Church is too judgmental. Conversely, less than half of those surveyed, including church-goers, believed that churches love unconditionally.
Isn’t the message of Gospel of Jesus Christ that – in spite of our failures, flaws and shortcomings – Christ loves us, died for us, and saves us, even when we fall way short? Why do so many people think that the message is, “Jesus will love you, when you stop being a sinner. We, the Church, will love and accept you when you look like us, act like us, think like us, and get your act together”?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard Christians justify judging others by saying, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin,“ as though they’re quoting Scripture. They aren’t. It isn’t in there!
Instead, I especially like what Tony Campolo says… “Jesus never said, love the sinner, but hate his sin… He said, love the sinner and hate your own sin.”
Jesus asked, “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 7:3-5)
In other words, “before you hate the speck in your brother’s eye, hate the log in your own!”
Now, listen to me. Jesus is NOT condoning walking around with sawdust in our eyes. He is NOT endorsing having eyeballs covered in sawdust. He is NOT saying that sawdust in a person’s eye is not a problem.
The greater problem is the people who are so quick to see, judge, reject and publically condemn the sawdust in another person’s eye, while they are walking around with a log, or a plank, in their own.
Here’s the image. Sawdust in your eye is a problem because it impairs your sight. Jesus talked a lot about spiritual-blindness, and having eyes to see the truth. Good vision matters – physically and spiritually. But, comparably, a log or plank in your eye is a far greater impairment than a little sawdust. If a little sawdust impairs vision, then a log is blinding!
If I’m blind, because I have a log in my eye, how can I see the sawdust in your eye accurately? If I’m blind, because I have a log in my eye, how can I see accurately enough to assist you with removing the sawdust from yours? If I’m blind, and have a log sticking out of my eye, how can I possibly get close enough to you to help you with your sawdust – my log will just hit you in the face! And, if I’m blind to the fact that I have a log in my eye in the first place, then I’m in absolutely no position to say anything to anybody about anything!
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
Think about that log in your eye, standing between you and the person you’re judging. That’s what judging does – it distances us. I can judge you without bothering to know you. I can judge you without knowing your history, your story, your background, your pain. I can judge you without getting my hands dirty. I can judge you easily, without having to do the harder work of self-examination. I can judge you from a distance, without any intention or desire to help you with your sawdust. I can just feel safely smug and self-righteous, by keeping my distance.
So, what’s your log?
Is it pride? Insecurity? Fear?
Is it self-centered, self-focused, self-righteousness?
Is it an inability to feel empathy or sympathy?
Is it hate? Jealousy? Immaturity?
Is it a lack of mercy?
What’s your log? And, what are you going to do about it?
We can never forget that the opposite of judgement is not acceptance. Let me repeat that. The opposite of judgment is not acceptance. The point of this passage is not to accept the sawdust in other people’s eyes. Sawdust in eyes is a problem! The opposite of judgement is self-examination. Before I judge someone else’s shortcomings, I need to take a good hard look at my own.
Is my own spiritual house in order?
Am I sin free?
Am I doing/being all that I have been called to be?
Am I seeking God?
Do I have any skeletons in my closets? Any unresolved conflicts? Any brokenness? Any shortcomings? Any failures?
We can never forget that Jesus was judged, too. Jesus was constantly being judged by the religious leaders, for…
- Breaking rules, like healing on the Sabbath.
- Associating with sinners – like tax collectors and prostitutes.
- Being from Nazareth – nothing good comes from Nazareth.
- Being the son of a carpenter – not a rabbi.
- Forgiving sins.
- Touching and healing the untouchable.
In response, Jesus had a few words for the religious leaders, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. You blind guides! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matthew 23, selected verses)
In contrast, Jesus was amazingly gentle with others – those, whom the religious leaders were quick to judge and condemn…
- Zacchaeus, the tax collector…
- The woman, caught in adultery…
- The prostitute, who anointed his feet…
- The sick, the blind, the deaf, the lame…
- The demon-infested…
- The poor…
Nadia Bolz-Weber writes, “Every time we draw a line between us and others, Jesus is always on the other side of it.”
The Pharisee’s judgement of Jesus ultimately led to his crucifixion. But, from the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
Even dying, he didn’t judge. And, if Christ is for me, who do you think you are to judge me? If Christ is for you, who am I to judge you?
Jesus said, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
The point is, before you have any business pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye, you need to deal with the plank in yours. My first spiritual responsibility is to be aware of the log in my eye, and to do all I can to remove it. Such spiritual awareness only comes with humility. Such spiritual awareness only comes from surrender, confession, and repentance.
The truth is, there is no place for smugness, or self-righteousness, or priggishness for a truly humble Christian. ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. ALL are sinners in need of a savior. EVERYONE has sawdust in their eyes. EVERYONE needs Jesus.
The more you become aware of the log, or logs, rolling around in your own eye, the less you are likely to judge, and the more likely you are to say to someone with sawdust in their eyes, “Me too. I get sawdust in my eyes too.”
And, the more we become aware of our own logs – how many there are, and how hard they are to remove, how blind we can be so much of the time –the more compassionate we are likely to be.
Think about it. If I have sawdust in my eye, I hope you won’t point your finger and condemn me for it. I hope you will feel compassion for me, and offer to help.
It’s those who are most aware of their own logs, who know the pain and burden of them. It’s those who are most aware of their own logs, who’ve felt the guilt and shame. It’s those who are most aware of their own logs, who’ve felt the most helpless at removing them. And, it is those who are most aware of the logs that have been removed, who are most grateful, and most likely to offer compassion and grace to others.
Makoto Fujimura writes, “Compassion can be made available to those willing to wade into the uncertain, muddy territory of the human heart.”
So, back to my question. What’s your log? What’s the log that is blinding you to God’s mercy and grace – for you and for others? What’s your log?