Matthew 6:22-23, 7:1-5
October 18, 2020
Rev. Deborah Dail
Denbigh United Presbyterian Church
2 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 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? 5 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.
You can tell a lot from some people’s eyes. If you are “bright eyed and bushy tailed,” your eyes reflect that you are wide awake and energetic, perhaps even excited for the day. If you have “starry” eyes, you are likely in love or idealistic or both. If you are “misty eyed” you are emotional or sad. If you are bleary eyed, you are fatigued.
If you give someone the “stink eye,” you are expressing “disgust, contempt, disapproval, or general ill will toward someone.” Our eyes say a lot about what’s going on in our hearts and minds.
In the Old Testament book of Proverbs (23:6; 28:22), the writer speaks of a “bountiful eye,” saying that the one with a “bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.” In other Jewish literature an “evil eye” is the opposite of a “bountiful or generous eye”. The evil eye is an “envious, grudging, or miserly spirit.” (Matthew in the “Interpretation” series, Douglas A. Hare, p. 72.) The “bountiful eye” reflects God’s light; the “evil eye” is full of darkness. The Message translation puts it this way: “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have.”
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, is calling us to have the “good, the bountiful, the generous-in-spirit” eye toward others rather than the evil, miserly, grudging eye that doesn’t share bread with the poor . . . and is not generous in spirit toward others. His specific example of the “evil eye” in our reading for today is judgmentalism. When we lack a generous spirit toward others – when we don’t have a bountiful eye toward others – we judge others more harshly than we judge ourselves. We notice the speck in other’s eyes when we have a log in our own eyes.
It’s quite easy for us to overlook our own faults. It’s quite easy for us to make excuses for our attitudes and behaviors. It’s quite easy for us to have blurry vision when it comes to both the subtle and the glaring ways we are sinning. But when it comes to seeing the faults and sins of others, we often have crystal clear vision . . . or at least we think so.
Let me pause here to make a distinction between making judgments and being judgmental. You and I must make judgments about situations every day as we navigate life. We make judgments about whether we believe an action is right or wrong for us to take. We assess situations that we encounter and we make judgments about what to do and how to do it, hoping for the best outcomes for ourselves and others. We also teach our children to make judgments about whether a situation is safe, or a person is safe, and how to make wise choices and to choose their closest friends wisely. This does not require judgmentalism, but admittedly it is a fine line to walk between the two.
To be judgmental is to have an attitude that I am “better than.” According to one commentator, “Judgmentalism is a social sin; it is the habit of constantly finding fault with what others say and do. It is a disease of the spirit. The critic arrogantly assumes a superiority that entitles him or her to assess the failings of others.” (Douglas A. Hare, p. 76) That’s when our eyes are no longer generous eyes, good eyes, bountiful eyes filled with light.
We are prone to make snap judgments and to give the “stink eye” of condemnation, often without adequate information about the person. We make assumptions that are often not based in fact.
When I was in seminary, I worked for a time on the days I was not in class as a substitute teacher in Los Angeles. One day a teacher was harshly chastising a child for not having the proper shoes for recess and outdoor play. “I’ve told you a hundred times. What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with your parents?” Judgmentalism 101: Look at a child without proper shoes, assume the child is disobedient or studid or that her parents are uninvolved, don’t care, or don’t follow rules. I took a moment to comfort and talk to the child on the playground. I asked: “Is this the only pair of shoes you have?” “Yes, she said. I don’t have any others.”
We are prone to be judgmental when we don’t take the time to learn more information and to “walk in other people’s shoes.” As people who follow Jesus, we are consistently challenged by Jesus to try to understand other people’s situations, to know their stories, and to look upon others with a generous eye filled with light and love.
Have you every been sharply judgmental of a person based on stereotypes or incomplete information? I have so many times. Have you also had the experience of getting to know that person, to know his story, or even to end up having an experience like his that changes your judgment into mercy? I hope so, for all of us.
Annie strove to be the perfect parent. She and her husband had tried to do everything right. They were a two-parent family, they went to church, their kids were in sports, and scouts, and youth group. They were the envy of others with their perfect kids. Annie was often judgmental of parents whose children got in trouble, until her daughter at 18 years old made a terrible mistake and was sentenced to two years in prison. Now she sits every Saturday in the prison waiting to visit her daughter with all those “awful” parents she once judged. There are plenty of two-parent families there, along with single moms, single dads, and grandparents who’ve raised their kids and find themselves in the heartbreaking waiting room of prison to see their kids in jumpsuits and shackles for 30 minutes a week. She hears their stories. She begins to realize it wasn’t necessarily something the parents did wrong, although all make mistakes. She realizes maybe it just isn’t that simple.
We judge couples who stay married and those who get divorced, never bothering to care about what may go on behind their closed doors or the deep pain that may dwell in their hearts. We give the “stink eye” of condemnation to those who are poor or unemployed, sometimes without knowing any of their story. Judgmentalism is often based on incomplete information or misinformation.
Another problem with judgmentalism is that it’s often based on mind-reading . . . that is, knowing and judging not just the actions of others, but also their motives. We not only see the splinter or log in the other person’s eye, but we believe we can know exactly how it got there and why. While I have often said that two of the classes that should have been taught in Seminary are “Basic Mind Reading” and “Advanced Mind Reading,” we do not possess the ability to read minds. No one does. Yet we are judgmental of others based on what we believe their motives are. From there we go to judging a person’s character. And yes, our actions do reflect something of our character, but sometimes there is more to the story. We must be careful in assuming we can read another’s mind and motives.
Judgmentalism comes from a position of thinking we are in some way superior to others. We see ourselves as less sinful, more “together,” “better than.” From our position of superiority, we don’t allow others we judge to ever change or grow. We label people and never let them outgrow that label. We never get past the speck in their eye while having the log of judgmentalism in ours.
Judgmentalism and unforgiveness are among the logs in our eyes that keep us fixated on the specks in others’ eyes.
A group of Christian monks called the Desert Fathers lived around the third century in a desert in Egypt. They strove to be godly as they devoted their lives to prayer, study, and writing. One day one of the monks committed a fault. The monks called a meeting and invited one of the senior monks, Father Moses. He refused to go. A priest went to get him and said “Come, everyone is waiting for you.” So, he got up and went. He took a leaking jug and filled it with water and carried it with him. The others came out to meet him and said: “What is this father?” The old monk said to them, “My sins run out behind me (like the water leaking from this jug), and I do not see them, and today I am coming to judge the errors of another.” When they heard that, they said no more to the brother but forgave him. (Christianpost.com, Greg Gordon, December 2018)
In a “Peanuts” comic strip Charlie Brown rests his head in his hands while leaning on the wall and looking miserable. His friend, Lucy, approaches. “Discouraged again, eh, Charlie Brown?” Charlie Brown does not even answer. “You know what your trouble is?” Lucy asks. Without waiting for a response, she announces, “The whole trouble with you is that you are you!” Charlie Brown says, “Well, what in the world can I do about that?” “I don’t pretend to be able to give advice,” Lucy replies. “I merely point out the trouble.” From: John Maxwell, Winning with People (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003 ) pp. 12-13.
I don’t believe Jesus is saying in this passage that we never confront others about their faults, shortcomings, or sin. But, we are called to do so not from a place of superiority, but from a place of humility and common humanity. We are also called to do more than just “point out trouble”. We ask God to open our eyes first to see God and God’s mercy shown to us. We ask God to show us our sin before we dwell on or confront the sins of others. We ask God to give us clear vision of who we are as sinners and as objects of God’s amazing grace and we then ask God to give us that same clear vision of all others. If we are to approach someone about the speck in his/her eye, we must first acknowledge all the specks and logs and splinters in our own. If we are to approach someone about the speck in his/her eye, we must approach them with the clear vision of that person as one who is created in the image of God . . . as one who is a child of God.
What kind of eyes do we have? What kind of eyes are we called to have? Our eyes say a lot about us. I hope you will join me in praying this week for a clear vision of ourselves and of others. I hope you will join me in praying for generous, bountiful, good eyes that reflect the light of Jesus wherever we go. When others see us, may they see the “good eye” instead of the “stink eye” of proud disapproval and judgmentalism.