On the Corner

By Robert Docter –

I want to talk some about motes and beams.

I’ve noticed both in myself and in the human condition in general the predisposition to look unfavorably on the character and actions of others which leads to pronouncing rash, condemning, unjust and unlovely judgement on them. I believe this often stems from a need to find a fault in others which we have concluded to be most distasteful within ourselves. Psychologists call this projection.

Jesus explored this entire matter in a series of succinct, seemingly disconnected statements in the Sermon on the Mount–for me, easily, the most important passage of the New Testament. The 7th chapter of Matthew begins with: Judge not, that ye be not judged. I sense that while he is highly concerned about the judgment itself, he is even more concerned about the spirit from which the judgment springs. It is when the spirit of the judgment is unlovely that we distance ourselves from his teaching.

It is impossible to go through life without making discriminations. We choose between good and evil, between right and wrong on the basis of discriminations we make. These discriminations are judgments. We are not directed to stop acting on these kinds of decisions. We start getting into trouble when with an unlovely spirit we condemn the actions and choices of others.

The second verse delineates the consequences of an unlovely spirit in the judging process. We will be measured, judged, assessed, examined in the same manner that we judge others. Some people think this judgment takes place only on judgment day. Wrong! It takes place daily. The seeds of an unlovely spirit bear a bitter fruit of isolation, distrust, alienation–from self, from others and from God.

Most of our communication with others takes place in our non-verbal presentation–in our facial expressions, the way we look, relate, approach or distance–in the tone of our voice, the syntax of our sentences, our posture and gestures. When we make judgments with an unlovely spirit about someone we push them away, and the message we send in the process reverberates and returns to us as the other person, feeling victimized in our presence, attempts some act of self defense. It is either flight or fight. Neither results in anything like a positive, growing relationship. We blame them, and their behavior reinforces our prior judgment. What we have forgotten is that their behavior occurs as a response to our judgment of them.

Then, in the third verse we get to motes and beams.

Our tendency to see faults in others while ignoring even greater faults within ourselves reveals a desperate inconsistency and is the product of an unlovely spirit. A “mote,” of course, is a small particle of dust, making itself visible to us through a ray of strong sunlight. It floats and moves through the air as a minor impure element from which our natural bodies protect us. We breathe it in unknowingly, yet we simultaneously filter it out. It’s not the particles of dust in our eyes that diminish us, it is the beam which inhibits our ability to perceive the world around us with any measure of accuracy.

Some individuals rail against the sins of others and are unable to view that in their own life which alienates them from God. They are “beam-blinded.” And because the beam gets in the way of their external view, they can only perceive that which is within them. They project that view on all about them and thus reap its bitter consequence. I wonder when these “most devout” among us will rail against back-biting–against gluttony–against grudge-carrying non-forgiveness–against diminishing labeling–against gender biased sexism–against racial stereotyping prejudice. I wonder when the sins of denominationism will be confronted–when narrowness and provincialism will be examined–when war will be unjustified and child beating stopped–when substance abuse in the form of caffeine or food or sweets or fats are deprogrammed zealously. Why are we so quick to believe the worst about people and ignore the best? Why are we so needy of self esteem that we diminish those around us?

The challenge is self-examination. As we commit ourselves to developing a lovely spirit we begin to interact with those around us in a loving way. This says: “I care about you”– rather than: “I condemn you.”

Let’s be about this task together.

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