(Jesus said:)“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 (NRSV)
Lent is a season for self-examination as well as for repentance (turning bad habits around.) Jesus didn’t often dwell upon the sins of others, even though he is sinless- and He is God, and therefore He has every right. Perhaps He wanted to get the message across that we need to examine our own heart and motive before we delve into the lives of others.
I think that Jesus was teaching the disciples the importance of self examination because it is too easy to sit in judgment when we are on our high horses- when we go around thinking, “at least I am better than so and so who does… fill-in-the-blank.” And in our human nature and common hypocrisy (because every single human being alive is in some manner a hypocrite) we do it often, usually without even realizing it.
The apostle James, who could at times be a bit “ in your face,” said that if we are guilty of violating the law- even one little bit of it- then we are guilty of violating everything in the law. (James 2:8-13) So in the eyes of God everyone is just as guilty a sinner, whether your sin is something as seemingly inconsequential as taking a piece of gum, or as innocuous as giving someone a dirty look, or if it’s as serious as serial murder.
Obviously some sins have greater impact upon society, and therefore deserve greater earthly consequences, but in the eyes of God ALL sin is sin. All humans are equally sinful. We just have different habitual sins.
James’ insight into God’s law is telling and humbling for everyone. No person has the right to sit on a high horse and condemn others. Jesus alone has that right, but He also has the advantage of a full and thorough insight into our hearts, minds, motives and backgrounds, as well as His heart is one of mercy and grace. He has the full and complete story. We only have bits and pieces to go by.
Our motive in pointing out another’s sin should always be that we love them and we want for them what God wants for them. That’s why we have the obligation to examine ourselves first before we even try to help someone else. This is where prayer, private confession to God, and sharing confession with other trusted believers comes in. When we help others we must first ask to see them with God’s eyes, and love them with God’s heart. We must avoid putting ourselves on the judgment seat to condemn someone else, because we don’t have the whole story. We should offer a loving heart and a helping hand instead.
Confession is not some sort of long and drawn out formal process. It is as easy (or as hard!) as coming to God and saying, “Daddy, I screwed up,” or “Daddy, show me what I’m doing wrong, and help me fix it.” It is an act of surrender, much like the petition in the Lord’s Prayer where we pray, “thy will be done.”
Ultimately the heart of God is that ALL people would be reconciled, or made right, with Him. The heart of Jesus longs for us to willingly surrender those things that are planks in our eyes to Him, so that we may see clearly and better serve God and help those around us.