Sir 27:4-7; 1Cor 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45
THE TREASURE IN YOU
In last Sunday’s gospel text, Jesus said in one of the verses: “Do not judge and you will not be judged”. Today, among many other sayings, Jesus is chastising his followers: “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You, hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye” (Lk 6:41-42). Jesus has just been talking about the dangers and unavoidable problems involved when a blind person is led by another blind person. Now he applies this teaching to the interpersonal relationships of his followers. Jesus calls them “hypocrites”, those who notice a tiny splinter in the eyes others but are blind to the plank in theirs.
- THE SPLINTER IN THE EYE
- a) You are the one with the plank/beam! Most Christians, when they read this passage, think of themselves as the one with the splinter in their eye, and everybody else as the one’s with the plank/beam. Most Christians think, “If I need help with my splinter of a sin, I will make sure I don’t go to those with the planks of sin.” Such an application of this verse blindly misses the point. The point of this imagery is not to look for the logs that others carry around in their eyes. The point is to look at yourself first. That is what Jesus says here. First remove the plank from your own eye. You are not the one with the splinter. You are the one with the plank/beam!
- b) Search your own heart and life: Far too many of us love to apply the Scriptures to everyone else but ourselves. We hear a sermon, and think, “I wish so and so had heard this sermon. He/she really needs it.” We have our devotions and come across a convicting verse, and decide to send it in a phone text to a friend who needs to hear it. We read a Christian book addressing a particular sin, and we buy a copy for our relative. What are we doing? We are becoming eye-inspectors looking for logs in other people’s eyes when we have a whole forest in our own! We need to become “I” inspectors. Inspect yourself first. Look in your own life. Search your own heart. Apply Scriptures to yourself.
- c) Focus on your own glaring sin: We should never teach Scripture to others, or try to correct someone else’s sin, until we have corrected ourselves first. We must get rid of that sin in our life that we are conveniently ignoring before we can help someone get rid of the sin in his/her life. We should not overlook our own failures by focusing on the failures of others. And it is not just the failures of others. It is also the insignificant concerns we focus on instead of the glaring sins in our life. How sad it is that we get so worked up about politics and sports and the weather and our physical ailments, yet ignore the glaring deficiencies of our own souls! The things in life we get upset about are trivialities compared to our intense spiritual needs. Satan loves to keep our attention on anything else, as long as we don’t fix the sin in our lives. Let us ask ourselves these questions:
- When was the last time you were more concerned about sin in your own life, than you were about the balance of your checkbook?
- When was the last time you were more overwhelmed about your spiritual failure than you were about the breakdown of your car?
- When was the last time your heart broke more over your own spiritual needs than your physical needs?
- When was the last time you were more upset about not reading your Bible today, than you were about reading your phone messages?
Here we can see the hypocrisy we all live in every day? HYPOCRISY! We don’t like being addressed with that word; it is the word Jesus used. We tell people how concerned we are about our pancreas, blood pressure, our back ache and soring knees, when we do not give a second thought to the gaping, rotting wounds of sin covering our whole body.
And it is even worse when someone else falls into sin. We have these glaring faults of our own, yet when others sin, we point the finger, and whisper about them, and say, “How could they?” The question is not, “How could they?” but “How could we?” We must look to our own sin first. This is the truth of Luke 6:39-42. If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, you must be honest with yourself. Seeing our sins, and actually working to get rid of them is painful surgery. But we must do it, says Jesus!
- CARING FOR OTHERS INSTEAD OF CRITICIZING
Being concerned for one another and being on the look-out for one another is not to turn us into some kind of religious police, constantly snooping around or like an investigative journalist trying all the time to dig up the dirt. Neither is Jesus saying that one Christian should never to seek to help another Christian in overcoming besetting sins or other weaknesses and failures. In fact, the last words in the quote above, “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye”, make it obvious that such help is to be offered. However, Jesus is calling for self-examination and self-discipline in trying to help someone else. In other words, we would not be able to help anybody else unless we have first applied to ourselves those lessons we want to teach to others. What we have then is a clarion call for integrity and humility. The Christian must be very careful not to lay himself open to the charge of hypocrisy.
One way of avoiding any possible charge of hypocrisy would be, of course, to do nothing and to leave everybody else simply to get on as he/she can, WITHOUT INTERFERANCE. That, however, is the not the Christian way. Jesus is not calling upon his followers to be blind the faults of others. Instead, he directs us as to how to help those who falter. We are not to use Cain’s question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” in order to avoid our responsibilities. What Jesus taught here is further developed in other portions of the NT. Jesus spoke then about the help one Christian can bring to another:
- a) In Mt.18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Privately at first – in this you are seeking his well-being not to parade his failures before others. Is this not the way we would want someone to deal with us if we were the one who had slipped into wrong-doing?
- b)17:3 “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,” The aim is not to be proved right or to win an argument but to restore our brother. We must be ready to move on so forgiveness is essential.
c)1Thess.5:14 “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” Different approaches will be necessary in different circumstances. We must be careful not to confuse them.
- d)15:1 “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”
- e)12:22-24a “the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honourable we bestow the greater honour, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.” Paul doesn’t pretend for one moment that every believer is equally strong or equally mature he simply points out that the weaker are not in any way to be despised or humiliated but to be handled with great care as people of great value who stand in need of special treatment.
Gal.6:1-2 “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” Again differences of Christian experience and maturity are recognised as a simple fact of life. The more spiritual person is not to act in a high-handed manner riding rough-shod over the feelings of another who has gotten caught up in wrong doing but must show gentleness in his/her efforts to restore the brother/sister. On this occasion Paul’s adds a warning. The spiritually minded Christian is not immune to all temptation and could himself make the same mistakes: to think that you’re somehow better than the other can so easily lead to a self-righteous attitude. And pride is the precursor to a fall. 1Cor.10:12 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
- THE TREE AND ITS FRUIT
Next, Jesus seems to be answering a question that flows from the first section: “Who then is a good guide? Who can one trust to be a guide/model?” “A good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit. For people do not pick figs from thornbushes, nor do they gather grapes from brambles. A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:42-45).
- a) Like person, like Speech: Jesus says, just as a fruit reveals the type of tree that produces it, a person’s speech is a reflection of the kind of person he/she is. The last line of today’s gospel says, “The mouth speaks from what the heart is full of.” (Lk 6:43). Similarly, the first reading points out that a person’s speech has a lot to reveal about his/her person: “…The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind. Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.” (Sir 27:5-8). One of the first ‘fruits’ by which a person can be judged is “what comes forth from our mouth”. Indeed, the path into a person’s heart/thoughts is his/her tongue (that is, his/her speech). If a person is polished, well brought up, his speech will show it. If the contrary is the case, if he/she is a ruffian, uncouth, his/her speech will also show it. So that if we never met a person before, merely by hearing him/her speak, we may be able to determine what kind of person he/she is. If speech is polite, respectful, modest, we may conclude he/she is a gentle and well bred. If, on the contrary, his/her speech is rude, coarse, laced with swear words then we may be entitled to conclude that he/she is a hooligan and ill bred.
In this regard, St. Paul’s advices: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph 4:29). St. James likewise says: “If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not bridle his tongue, he deceives his heart and his religion is worthless.” (James 1:26). Gossips, blackmail, fowl-language, angry words, insults, cursing words, rumour mongering and the like, are the sort of speech a true Christian must guard against. Indeed, “the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by [only] a small spark. The tongue also is a fire…It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (James 1:5-6). Imagine how fast a rumour spreads once it escapes the mouth and how devastating its consequences can be. That tells the destructive power and fire of the tongue!
- b) Like tree, like fruit: Jesus further says what you find on the outside is a good indication of what a person is on the inside. “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good” A person cannot hide who he/she really is. No matter what image one tries to project to others, who a person really is will come out in the things he/she says and does. For instance, those who study body language have learned that there are certain physical and bodily responses that come from what is called the limbic regions of the brain. These are involuntary non-verbal responses. Therfore, the trained observer can tell whether a person is lying or telling the truth, comfortable or uncomfortable, just by looking at the eyes, mouth, hands, and feet. There are certain “tells” or clues that cannot be disguised.
Jesus is telling us that if we watch someone’s life, we can learn about his/her heart. The spiritual state of a person who cannot stop using profanity, who is always critical, who loves to gossip, is dishonest in business, or who does not fulfill his/her promises is always questionable. Jesus says “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45). We see what a person really is by the things he/she says and does.
Let us not get things wrong here! We all have bad and good days. No one has it together all the time. One may carve a good or bad image of oneself depending on the mood of certain days. However, if you observe a person for long enough you will see certain patterns and tendencies developing. In Galatians 5 we are told that the fruit of the spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When we begin to see these traits in a person’s life we learn something about his/her heart. If we want to know about a person’s character here are some lead questions to ask:
- How do they respond in a crisis?
- What do they do when they are frustrated?
- Do they keep their promises and fulfill their responsibilities?
- How do they handle power and authority?
- How do they treat their spouse and children?
- How do they respond when people disagree with them?
- What gets priority in their time and attention?
- Do the people around them seem tense or relaxed? Do others speak about the person in positive or negative terms?
These questions give us a window into the soul of a person. Now, here is the real test. It would be interesting to turn these questions around and ask them of ourselves. They will give us a glimpse into our own character. For instance, “How do I respond in a crisis?” etc. (Read all the questions.)
We pray for an openness of heart, that we may be humble enough to acknowledge our personal fault and seek forgiveness for them.