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The funnies!--It's a serious world but we love to laugh.
"Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite!
First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Matthew 7:3-5 NKJV
Please Accept This . . . .
The sawdust versus the plank! It's a comic exaggeration. Just imagine what it would look like for someone, blinded by a board, to criticize someone else for having a speck of sawdust in their eye! Jesus is having fun with this one. And his audience must surely be laughing out loud. Judgment is a harsh, uncomfortable word. So Jesus used a clever trick to put us at ease and laugh at ourselves.
Nobody needs to hear this more than church people!--the choir, the people in the front pew and all the other pews, the one in the pulpit, the musicians and child-care workers and everyone out in the vestibule and hallways, too. We all need to look at ourselves and observe the power of our words as we nit-pick, judge and find fault with each other. Stop and consider what we do to the whole community of God's people when criticisms from one congregation march out the door and broadside the church down the street. As though in order for me and my group to be right, they have to be wrong!
In religious circles we categorize each other by the words we use to express our faith. Are we washed in the blood of Jesus, or just trying to live a good life. Do we talk about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or none of these. We are identified by our pet projects, like nurturing our own, proselytizing, chasing celebrities or taking care of the world.
Worship services are judged by the choice of music and instruments, and what people wear. Do babies go to the nursery, children behave and teenagers look decent? Did anyone talk to me or care I was there? Sermons are evaluated for relevance or "correct" theology. Did the speaker wave the Bible, talk in a monotone, put me to sleep or hold my interest. Regardless, it was probably either too long or too short.
I could fill a few pages with things we fuss about in our houses of worship. The bad news is we form opinions about all these issues and love to express them, particularly the negative ones. Which brings us to the sad question: How can there be so much bad news in a place which proclaims the Good News of Jesus!
Look again at the image of the plank and the speck of sawdust. Yes, the brother has sawdust in his eye. Jesus didn't deny that. But in the process of our wanting to remove the speck from our brother's eye, we cannot see the plank growing in our own eye. Are we willing to take this message from Jesus? Am I willing to accept it as a loving message from my Savior? Maybe even stand back and look at the big picture and laugh at myself in amazement for being so foolish!
Certainly we do need to correct people at times. Every one of us could benefit from lots of correction. And it is important that we teach and instruct others in the truths we believe to be essential for this life and eternity. We also need to acknowledge that each person is unique. That's how God made us. So we will all find our own way to experience and express our relationship to our Maker. It's not likely that I will change anyone by an attitude of superiority, condemnation or criticism, especially when it's done behind their back.
In one of our congregations we used this phrase frequently in committee meetings: "Please accept this in the spirit in which I mean it." When we heard that phrase, we knew it was coming and it was something we did not want to hear. But we also knew we were loved and respected. And amid our differences, we could speak frankly to each other. By doing so, we remained united in our common goals despite our disagreements. Many times at the end of those meetings, we hugged each other before going home.
Another gem I learned from my husband is, "Help me to understand this." Yes, I want to understand where you are coming from and why you think as you do. So help me out! What would happen if we all took that attitude to the people in the church down the street? Or to anyone else we are tempted to judge? I think that plank would fall right out of our eyes, at least for now.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Ask each person to tell one of their favorite jokes. Then discuss what humor does for us as individuals and for your group.
Joking can be another way of being serious. Truth conveyed through humor is easier to take. Give some examples of this from your own experience. Maybe a cartoon on the editorial page? Or a funny line from late-night TV? Watch for other examples throughout the coming week.
When you see a "speck of sawdust in your brother's eye," is it usually a fault of character, an error in thinking, bad decision-making, or what? Did you ever consider that the way you react to someone's fault may be a worse "sin" than the "sin" you are trying to correct? How do you speak the truth in love to someone you know? What does it mean to give someone the benefit of the doubt?
Within a circle of friends in the hallway after worship, what do you talk about? Are you generous with praise for your congregation and stingy with criticism? Or is it the other way around? Visualize Jesus standing with you, would that affect the conversation? If so, how?
What are some of the reasons there is so much to fuss about among people of faith? Try to come up with perfectly legitimate reasons as well as those usual annoyances. Did you notice that what is petty to one person is a major grievance to another person?
Without naming names, think about someone in your congregation who receives more than the usual criticism. Why are they criticized? Do you think they deserve it? Are Jesus' words about sawdust and planks relevant to that situation?
What is the opposite of self-righteous condemnation? There will be many correct answers, so make a list. Then pick your favorites, and write them where you will frequently see them to remind yourself to be that kind of person.
Discuss the images of trainer/coach as opposed to judge/jury. What is the difference between instruction and judgment? Is one more likely to encourage change than the other?