instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Taking another look

Jesus' teaching about the mote in your brother's eye may be too well known for me to learn anything from it, but let me try.

I start with the teaching as recorded in Matthew 7:
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?
How can you say to your brother, "Let me remove that splinter from your eye," while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.
I note two thing. First, the same image is used three times in a row.  What the Holy Spirit tells you three times is true. And probably important.

Second, while the image is repeated, its application is different each time.
  1. Why? Why do we notice others' splinters and not our own beams?

    We notice what we look at attentively. If we notice our brother's splinter, we must be looking at his eye. If we aren't looking at our own reflection, we can't notice our beams.

    The answer to Jesus' question is, because I am more interested in my brother's faults than my own. That's fine -- if I know I am fault free. Otherwise...

    Notice this doesn't mean we think our brother's minor faults are worse than our major faults. It means we think we're so wonderful there's no point in even checking to see if we have any faults at all.

  2. How? Well, of course we can offer to remove our brother's splinter because we haven't noticed the wooden beam.

    But as I said, it's not just that we didn't notice, it's that we didn't even look. So our offer to help is based on the presumption that we're capable of helping, rather than on easily obtainable knowledge. That's like helping someone get to work on time by changing lanes without checking to see of there's another car there.

    How can I do such a thing? Is the hypocrisy of such an action in thinking my brother's fault is worse than mine, or in saying I'm doing it out of genuine love for my brother?

  3. Do! Remove your own fault first -- which presupposes noticing it, which presupposes looking for it (and again, beams aren't hard to spot if you're looking at them).

    With a truly clear eye, you'll truly be able to help your brother. Not only that, but he might even let you help him, rather than take one look at you coming at him with a beam in your own eye and say, "No thanks, I'm good."

    One might wonder whether Jesus really means for us to take splinters out of each other's eyes, or whether we'll find we never quite get around to removing all our own beams once we start looking. That may be a question whose answer only becomes clear once you've removed all your beams. Given other teachings on fraternal correction, though, I'd guess this particular verse is more about humbling yourself than ignoring your brother.