Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You 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.-Matthew 7:3-5
In 1970, Sesame Street recycled an old joke. Bert approaches Ernie who appears on screen with a banana in his ear. Bert says: You have a banana in your ear. Ernie doesn’t respond. Bert repeats: You have a banana in your ear. Nothing from Ernie. Bert finally gets Ernie’s attention, again tells him that he has a banana in his ear. Ernie says: I can’t hear you. I have a banana in my ear.
I wonder if Sesame Street writers had read today’s verse from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus presents his own funny image, one that might lend itself to cartoon. Someone with a log in their eye is trying to fine tune a speck in somebody else’s eye. The log-blinded person seems clueless about what is getting in the way of clear vision, kind of like that Muppet with a banana in his ear.
It’s a reminder of how many times in the gospels Jesus addresses blindness. His many healings of physical blindness provided a way of saying that folks can be blind in other ways as well, blind spiritually, blind in the ways we regard God and each other, blind to the needs of a broken world. That condition seems especially true for really religious folks, the good church-goers of Jesus’ day. Maybe even clergy.
Jesus speaks of hypocrites, which reminds me of what some people have said when I ask if they are part of a church. People will sometimes say that they don’t go to church because it’s just full of hypocrites. To which I can only respond: Guilty as charged. So what’s the answer? What are we to do?
An ancient prayer which became popular in the musical GODSPELL (see above) asked that among other things we would see more clearly. In today’s passage, it seems that if we wish to come to clarity, we need help to make that happen.
And we’ve got work to do on ourselves. The work on ourselves (with a metaphorical log blocking our own vision) can be a lot more extensive than the work we imagine other people need to do (a speck of dust blocking theirs).
I found myself wondering what the log-in-the-eye represents. What is the thing, the big thing, that keeps me from seeing clearly? If I had to boil it down to one thing, I guess it would be the sin of pride. C.S.Lewis wrote a lot about pride and how it blocks vision. He said: A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.
He continues: There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit.
Lewis says that the opposite virtue is humility, which may suggest that the pathway of humility is the key to log removal. Tim Keller, in his book The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness, speaks of gospel-humility. Its essence is “not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”
We come to this gospel-humility in a number of ways. Worship helps, a way of seeing that our lives unfold in the presence of a power greater than our own. Gratitude helps, a way of seeing that we are on the receiving end of grace, that goodness comes to us not because we’re so magnificent, but because God is. Service helps, a way of seeing that we are connected to each other. Prayer (especially confession) helps, a way of seeing that we don’t always get it right, but that help is available. All of those things help with log-removal. All so we can see more clearly. And love more dearly. And follow more nearly. Day by day.