This coming Sunday is the 8th Sunday in Lectionary Cycle C. Again we are considering the “Sermon on the Plains” from the Gospel of Luke. In yesterday’s post we noted that Jesus is preparing his disciples to “be like the teacher” in that they truly begin to see the kingdom and are no longer blind. The first part of the sermon has offered a new understanding of the values of heart and action called for by God. Even if the listener decides to choose Jesus as the teacher, to what degree will they follow? Will they act on this new understanding? Will they persevere to become “fully trained” and become like their teacher?
41 Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.
This expression did not originate with Jesus. Aristotle was not the first to give voice to the common expectation that those who reprove others ought not suffer from the same shortcoming. In context it resonates with the caution not to judge others in the preceding section (vv. 37–38). Taken independently, the parable exposes the common human predilection to point out even the slightest faults in others while being blind to our own, even though they may be much greater (cf. Matt 7:3–5).
Culpepper (152), in his commentary on Luke writes:
“The first danger threatening discipleship is the inclination to judge others, but how can we help making judgments? What sort of persons would we be if we made no moral judgments? We are constantly faced with the need to make discriminating moral choices. Learning to judge between right and wrong and developing an acute sense of rightness and justice while being able to spot hypocrisy, moral compromises, and oppression reflects a heightened spiritual awareness. What, then, does Jesus mean by this warning not to judge others?
“Jesus was talking about a particular kind of judgment. The judgment in view is the inclination to condemn others for their faults and failures. Disciples do not grow better by comparing themselves with someone else. Some of us have gotten so sharp that we can put someone else down with just the quickest flick of the tongue. We are black belts in innuendo and faint praise. Not a speck in our brother’s eye escapes our notice. ‘The Smiths are fine people,’ we say. ‘I just don’t know why they bought a house in that neighborhood.’ ‘Aunt Bea, bless her heart, just never would let Arnold stand on his own feet.’ ‘Oh, I love that dress. It’s just right for you. Did you find it on sale?’ Of course, we would never judge others. Sometimes we merely ‘speak the truth in love’ with a little too much relish.
“The warning not to judge and the invitation for the one without sin to cast the first stone are twin sayings that cut the ground from beneath smug superiority. Their sin may not be ours, but ours is just as bad. Judging is the sin of those who are blind to their own faults. It is the obsession of those who seek to make themselves better, not by lifting themselves up, but by bringing others down. It is the mock justice of those who presume to know what others should do. The log in our own eye hardly qualifies us to judge the faults of our brothers and sisters.”
These few verses serve to warn those who attempt to substantiate their own piety through censuring the shortcomings of others as acting inconsistently. Their hearts and actions are inconsistent. While they themselves posture for public adulation, their behavior is not determined by God – which is the ultimate measure of holiness.
Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004. 149-153