Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, ‘Friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye. Luke 6:41-42
I used to take these words of Jesus to mean “mind your own business, you have enough issues of your own to deal with” or something along those lines. And indeed, it does tend to read that way. Jesus refers to the speck in the other person’s eye and the plank in our own eye. It sort in feels like, at least at first read, to imply that my own issues are big enough to keep me from correcting or pointing out issues in others.
But when I read it again…and again. When I consider it within the larger context of the gospel of Luke and the Bible as a whole, I don’t think that’s what Jesus is getting at. I don’t think Jesus is saying, “Mind your own problems and stay out of other people’s issues.” It’s inconsistent with the Bible’s general call for accountability within community. It’s inconsistent with Jesus’ own behavior towards his disciples (like Jesus calling Peter “Satan” and a stumbling block). And it’s not consistent with the accountability the New Testament church utilizes in calling sin out in one another. Multitudes of examples come to mind here, but I’m particularly thinking of Peter and Paul in Galatians 2.
So what is Jesus saying if he isn’t saying to keep our nose out of other people’s business and to stop trying to get the “speck” out of other’s eyes? I think it’s a call for perspective. For honesty with ourselves and a realization of our own sinfulness.
Just because I have baggage I am working through; just because I have issues that need forgiving and healing doesn’t mean I am disqualified from helping others. It doesn’t mean I can’t see and then call out sin in my friend if it’s needed. But I have to be working on me too. I have to be seeking removal of my own junk. And, as is illustrated in the analogy Jesus uses, my own junk hinders me from helping others as best as I can. So if I would be willing to get the plank out of my own eye I could actually help my friend more effectively. It’s a call to honesty with ones self. To being willing to look inward before looking outward.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John1:8-9
The issue of judging others versus holding them accountable, the difference between condemning and helping may hang to a certain degree on our willingness to look inwardly with honesty. When I see my own sin, when I have slogged through my own muck, and when I have been working on picking up the pieces of my own brokenness I am far more able to act with mercy to another who has fallen. Far more able to help them heal and far less likely to simply judge them.
The need for us to search within and to open ourselves up to the Spirit’s searching is crucial. It’s vital to our own spiritual health and relationship with the Father. And it’s vital to our ability to help others and lovingly bring them back when they stray. Otherwise, I fear we are far too prone to judgment and dismissal of others instead of love and grace.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24