Earlier this month I received a challenge: take just one part of Jesus’s core teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and actually try to live it.
It’s easy to think that Jesus had good and wise things to say. Even most people who identify as Christians don’t always appreciate just how wise and counterintuitive some of the truths of his discourse are and were. The hard part is actually doing any of them consistently.
In the Sermon, contained in Matthew 5-7, Jesus lays out deeply subversive ideas on anger, on virtue signaling, on relationship to the divine, on trust and oaths, on love and objectification, on power and revenge, on generosity, on anxiety. He went for the root – changing not just people’s actions but their inner thoughts and hearts as well.
There’s plenty there which I heartily agree with but utterly fail to practice. If I had seen Jesus talking about these things, I would probably have been one of the people who nodded their heads and yet did nothing. And I would have thought nothing of it later.
I’d like to improve my follow-through.
Of all the things which this famous sermon addresses, there’s one I think I need to work on most.
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment 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 neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘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 neighbor’s eye.
Whether at work, at home, or out and about in the city, my negative focus is often turned outward. I’m looking for reasons to judge people negatively. I’m looking for people to blame for my problems. I’m looking for people I can cast as unjust or immoral.
More often than not, the problem is at least partially my fault. And more often than I’d care to admit, I’m a worse contributor to the problem than the people around me. My tendency to judge first and improve myself later (or never) is a serious problem of moral vision – enough that Jesus’s metaphor of a plank in an eye is fitting.
How much time have I wasted trying to find those specks in other eyes when I could dislodge mu own planks?
I still cast judgement first. I still default to seeing what other people are doing wrong rather than what I could be doing better. And while I know I could be doing better in many of the areas of life which Jesus addresses in the Sermon, learning how to look inward and fix myself precedes doing the rest successfully.
To that end, I’ll be asking myself these questions daily.
- What are the ways in which other people are behaving that are frustrating me?
- How am I acting out that behavior myself?
- How am I contributing to the behavior of those around me?
- How can I stop contributing to the problem?
- What will I do today to start fixing myself?
Now, if you’re reading this, I have a favor to ask of you.
If you see me externalizing a problem onto other people, confront me about it. Gently point me back to examining the plank in my own eye. If you really have to, get on my case. You can be as snarky as Jesus gets in this part of the discourse:
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.