Beams, motes and lessons

‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. — Matthew 7:1-12 NRSV

There are days when the readings for the Daily Office sort of leave me scratching my head and wondering that all that means to me. Then there are days when there is so much that it feels almost impossible to take it all in. This is one of those passages. There are four paragraphs and enough there to keep a mind busy for years contemplating them.

There are so many familiar lessons here: as you are judged, so you will be judged; the log in your own eye vs. the speck in your neighbor’s; don’t throw pearls before swine; ask, seek and knock; do to others as you would have them do to you. These were all precepts I was taught in Sunday School as a child and still haven’t been able to master despite hearing them again and again for years. They don’t seem difficult, when I read them on the page, but why are they so difficult, even impossible, to live out so much of the time?

Take judging. I have an awareness that I am doing it but control it? That’s something else. So why do I do it? Very possibly because it ties in with the next bit about the beam and the mote. In one situation, I feel judged because there are notes all over the databases I work in, pointing out errors that individually wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans but collectively feel overwhelming. I judge in return, partly to remind myself that the person leaving the notes is far from perfect themselves. I know I’m wrong, but I seem to do it without really thinking. Why not just be more careful? I do try, but I still make mistakes. I judge the log in their eye because I feel that they don’t seem able to see it; I also don’t forget I’ve got a rather large one in my own.

The part about “do unto others” sounds so easy to do. If I want to be treated politely then I need to be polite myself. If I need a hand, I have to not only ask for it but also have to be alert to the potential needs of others that I can fill. If I don’t want to be judged — well, that’s harder because it is putting a behavior on someone else that isn’t mine to put on them. Perhaps if I look at it a little differently, maybe looking at it as judging others as I would expect God to judge me. Is it fair for me to expect God to use a six-inch ruler when I use a yardstick? If it weren’t a challenge, it would be automatic and everybody would be doing it. As it is, it is a challenge I need to take up as I start my day and prepare to go to work to face it head on.

Jesus didn’t give these lessons just to hear himself talk. He expected them to make a difference in the lives of those who heard him. Because more than two thousand years have happened between then and now doesn’t dilute those lessons or excuse halfhearted hearing and little action. Sunday School lessons have a way of applying to the whole life, not just an hour on Sunday mornings.

I think I need to go back to school. I can recite the lessons but I hope God grades on the curve when I actually get to the test based on those lessons. I pray for the grace to grade others on that same curve I want for myself. I’ve got some lessons to relearn and homework to do to practice those lessons.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter

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