Tuesday, 15 July 2014
Of Motes and Beams
Luke 6: 36
Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.
We might call today’s lesson — rather than ‘of mice and men’ — ‘of motes and beams’. I’m sure we know what a beam is — it is a very large piece of wood. But what is a mote? Well one definition of mote which I looked up is: ‘a very small piece of dust, dirt’. So we get the comparison. It is easy to understand that you might have a speck of dust in your eye. Probably everyone here has had the experience — not a pleasant one but not something that is going to do you serious damage — perhaps unless you are driving along a mountainous road with no guard rails. But having a beam in your eye — if you can imagine that — is certainly going to give you lots of trouble — if not permanent blindness.
Jesus then is setting up a comparison that it is impossible to misunderstand. People are paying attention to the small things that they don’t approve of in others and they are blind to the big things that they should be paying attention to in themselves. These are the hypocrites that Jesus is identifying when he declares, ‘Thou hypocrite’ or in modern English, ‘You hypocrite’.
Let’s put this passage in context. A lot has happened just before this passage. Jesus has just passed through a grain field on the Sabbath and his disciples have sinned by doing work — they have picked some heads of grain to eat — being his disciples they probably didn’t always get regular meals. The Pharisees criticize them for doing work on the Sabbath — I guess they hadn’t heard Jesus proclamation that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. After this, Jesus is criticized again by the Pharisees for healing a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. Elsewhere in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus doesn’t pull any punches regarding how he feels about the Pharisees, “But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”
So Jesus does not think much of people who are hypocritical. The biggest culprits in this sin are the Pharisees. The Pharisees were religious laymen — there don’t seem to have been any women Pharisees — which might have been part of their problem. They were a sect or social movement which was primarily interested in the law — which of course in that time and place was the Mosaic Code — and ensuring that the law was fulfilled and obeyed.
They were condemned by Jesus many different times first because they seemed to be making a god of the law rather than the law being a way which would bring people closer to God. Secondly — and specifically in today’s context — they were more concerned with the mote — the speck of dust — in other’s eyes than in the beam or log in their own eye. They ‘shut up the kingdom of heaven against men’ — I believe that is the greatest sin in Jesus’ eyes. They not only block their own way to the Kingdom of God but they block others from reaching the Kingdom.
Well, where does that leave us today? None of us like to think of ourselves as hypocrites. But of course Jesus is speaking to us as well as to the people around him. I believe this is where we need to consider the motes and the beams. Do we ever fall into the trap that Jesus identifies in the Pharisees? Of course hypocrisy is probably as common today as it was in Jesus’ time. It just may have different subject. Today people are rarely criticized for working on the Sabbath. However, I believe that we are all subject to the beam and mote problem.
We all will fall into the problem — or sin to put it in religious language — of seeing faults in others before we see them in ourselves. It is human nature to do this. In fact we often see in others the things about ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge.
In the psychology of Carl Jung he calls this the shadow. We identify and react to those things in others that we do not find acceptable in ourselves. In effect we see the beam that is in our eye as being the beam even if it is only a mote in another person’s eye. One way of telling when this happens is the strength of the reaction that you have to the actions of behaviour or even appearance of the other person. If the strength of your reaction or the depth of the emotions that are stirred up are out of proportion to the event then you are probably dealing with an aspect of your shadow — an aspect of you self that is not acceptable to you. In effect the beam that you see in the other person may in effect be closer to a mote and in truth is your own beam.
I believe that this is important for us as Christians because we need to be able to do all we can to follow Jesus’ lessons. If we realize that the fault — dear Horatio — is in ourselves and not all in the other — we are more able to do as Jesus commands. The Gospel lessons begins, “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. 37Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven”. These are the attributes that Jesus believes are the important ones — not the minutia of following the law. We are to love one another as he loves us. As Paul says to the Church in Corinth, ‘And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity”.
If we are to live in true charity with our neighbours and ourselves we will be following Jesus commandment to love one another. Amen