Taking the log out of our own eye
A reflection for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
by Deacon Larry Worthen
The story in this Sunday’s Gospel is a familiar one. Jesus asks his listeners: “How can you take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye if you can’t take the log out of your own?” We all know what that means – you can’t help someone else overcome their faults if you have not yet overcome your own.
Most often we are not very reasonable when we criticize others. Someone pulls in front of us in traffic, and we holler something not very flattering out the window. Or we stumble on some Lego blocks our preschooler has left out on the carpet, and we wonder out loud, “When will that child learn to pick up after themselves?” So many responses are reflexive, automatic, seemingly without thought. Someone has wronged us, and we use the opportunity to “set them straight”.
At least that is how we justify our behaviour. But our response may be more about retaliation than about correction. Jesus says: “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.” (Matthew 15:18). Have you ever openly and angrily criticized someone else for a perceived or actual hurt? Consider your retaliatory comment on its own without the statement or situation that came before it. That is the part that we are responsible for. We will be judged on the quality of our love.
Most of the time when we respond in anger we are punishing the person whose behaviour triggered our response. We believe we have the right to do so based on the saying “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. But that is not what Jesus tells us to do. Jesus says “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). His covenant is a covenant of love even when someone does not deserve it. Jesus says: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:44-45).
Secular commentators on the art of giving and receiving feedback advise us to take a moment to calm down before we respond. Feelings of anger, hurt, frustration, or resentment are normal. Pausing for a moment allows the adrenaline to wear off so that our response can evolve from emotional retaliation to calm and helpful correction. Our response should be kind and loving. Jesus says: “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).
I have come to a disturbing conclusion: that one of the most common ways that Christ informs us of our weaknesses is when we see the same weakness in others. In other words, often our most significant emotional reaction to the actions or inaction to others comes in those areas where we ourselves are most in need of correction.
Let’s take another look at the two examples referred to above. A slow-moving driver cuts into our lane in front of us and we are furious. Perhaps we are concerned about being late for a meeting and how that will reflect on our reputation. We are so focussed on arriving at our destination, we are angry with any barrier that stands in our way, even when that barrier is another person. Which of the two drivers is the most insensitive to the needs of others? In the second example, getting frustrated with our preschooler misses the point. Our child will learn to pick up after themselves when we teach them to do so and when we monitor their behaviour to the point where it becomes a consistent habit. Perhaps the child is not the only family member who struggles with inconsistency.
There are many circumstances in which we need to tell another person that they have hurt or disappointed us. But we need to be introspective about our own culpability and be at peace with God before we approach someone to correct their behaviour. We should only take corrective action for the sake of love. It is the Christian way.
The readings for the Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, are
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
Larry Worthen is a deacon of the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth and Executive Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Association of Canada.