We are studying the Q ("Source") Gospel at Grace Immanuel this summer - sections of Matthew and Luke which most likely came from another early Christian teaching book, though no copies have ever been found. Last Sunday the teaching was:
Can one blind person lead another? Won't they both fall into a ditch? The student is not superior to the teacher, but if students are well taught they will become like their teacher.
Why do you notice the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and not the wooden plank in your own? How can you say to your brother or sister, "Let me take out the sawdust from your eye," when you cannot see the plank in your own?
Hypocrite! Remove the plank from your own eye first; then you will see clearly enough to remove the sawdust from your sister's eye.
I have a friend who has often remarked that she has to run into a 2 x 4 for God to get her attention. I have a pretty good bruise on my head right now from running into the underside of our deck, trying to get things out of the heavy rain last week. Ouch! It gets your attention.
Jesus wants to get our attention with a somewhat ridiculous comment that your neighbor's faults are like a speck of sawdust while you and me have boards stuck in our eyes. Clearly, he has a sense of humor, but the import is serious. The 12 Step movement calls this a personal inventory, an examination of conscience. In the light of the mercy of God, and the power of the Spirit to transform us, we take a hard look in the mirror. Chaucer's Canterbury Tales includes "The Parson's Tale," cataloging the Seven Deadly Sins according to medieval theology. Interestingly, the parson also includes Seven Healing Virtues. The list is a bit quaint these days, but what would it look like with contemporary understandings?
Here are some "boards" we might find in our eyes, and the healing virtues which lead to transformation:
1. EGO: Not a healthy sense of self-worth, but self-centeredness, self-righteousness, being locked in to one's position, dominating others and glorying in crowd attention. Always having to get in the last word. This is easy to see in others, but hard to see in ourselves.
HEALING VIRTUE: SELF-EMPTYING. Giving of yourself, and letting go of self-justification. This is so hard! Yet, it is the heart of the matter. Everything else is related to this, and it is the core of Jesus' life, that he "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant." (Philippians 2:5-11)
2. GRASPING: "Mine" is cute when a toddler learns to say it, but what comes next is a playground fight. We grasp for things, money, property, people. There is nothing wrong with productivity, but we usually go too far in our acquisition out of fear that there is not enough to go around...not enough money, not enough oil, not enough love, not enough land, not enough water.
HEALING VIRTUE: GENEROSITY. The Parson in Chaucer's tale notes that the cure for greed is mercy - consideration of the needs of others.
3. UNFAITHFULNESS: This is another form of grasping, related to our sexual conduct with others. We are not talking about some ancient holiness code where we need to keep ourselves pure, but rather about relating to others with respect, honoring our promises, and not misusing other people. It is about living in trust with those we love.
HEALING VIRTUE: GOOD BOUNDARIES. The old adage "Good fences make good neighbors" could apply here! Keeping good personal boundaries rebuilds our personal integrity and trust with others.
4. RESENTMENT: This one is very popular these days. In fact, tv and radio empires are built on it. We spend so much time being afraid someone else is going to do well, or (to flip it) relishing the failures of others. (True confession: The rhino poachers in South Africa that got eaten by lions after breaking into the game reserve. Instant karma, huh? Oh yeah, judge not...) Ask yourself, after an activity like eating out, doing some recreation, or shopping, do you rest in the enjoyment, or catalog the ways someone else ruined the experience for you? Do you assign blame to whole groups of people for society's ills? Resentment.
HEALING VIRTUE: CONTENTMENT. Contentment is realizing you have enough, and taking the time to be grateful.
5. EXCESS: This is the Lay's Potato Chip test. "Bet you can't eat just one." We think we are having fun, and to a point we are, but then we move into territory where we are trying to fill a hole in ourselves with drink, food, substances which cannot be satisfied with those things. In fact, those things will make our problems worse. Eric Clapton famously said that his addiction to heroin started at his mother's sugar jar.
HEALING VIRTUE: SELF-CARE. Jesus did say "Love your neighbor as you love yourself." Self-care is the starting point. Having compassion for yourself, and taking care of yourself, is the best gift you can give the world right now.
6. RAGE: Are you addicted to rage? Some people who have had bad life experiences or have rigid political political perspectives seem addicted to rage. Others among us nurse quiet grudges for years on end. And what is road rage about? No one is getting in their car and entering traffic in order to be in your way! They also have somewhere to go.
HEALING VIRTUE: UNDERSTANDING. Understanding the humanity of the other person goes a long way in healing our rage. A person with years of recovery under her belt once told me, "People don't do things to you, but for themselves."
7. NEGLECT: We've probably all seen how much chaos can be cause at work, in the home, or at school when one team member will not pull their fair share of the weight. In some situations, this can be quite dangerous. Excess is one form of dependency, while laziness is another.
HEALING VIRTUE: RESPONSE-ABILITY. The saying in sports is "Play your position." We make better family members, parents, business partners, and citizens if we know our role, live up to the potential of our capabilities, and respond when needed.
Whew, that was a long look in the mirror! What Jesus is asking for in this case is not a "road to Damascus" shining moment conversion, but a daily change of heart and mind. At the beginning of our worship last Sunday, we watched a video of a young Syrian refugee girl take her first steps following spinal surgery. Think of all the healing virtues that led up to that: her parent's courage in a war zone, the compassion of the United Nations and others in the refugee camp, a welcoming immigration policy when they arrived in the U.S., the good structure of Kentucky Refugee Ministries to integrate refugees into Louisville, the co-sponsorship offered by our church, the program for little Fatima to receive back surgery, the care and skill of the surgery team, hospital staff, and rehabilitation workers...and perhaps most of all, Fatima's will to walk! Healing virtues, indeed.
Christ's Peace, Greg
P.S. - Try saying the Eastern Orthodox "Jesus Prayer" every time you turn on your car or go somewhere by bike, bus or ride service this week: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." (If changing the language in some way helps you say this prayer, do it.)