Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Blind Ophthalmologist (Matthew 7:5)

What are we first to take out of our own eye? Log or beam (Matthew 7:5)

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addresses judging others (Matthew 7:1-5). In making his case, he invokes graphic imagery:

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, 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 brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 NASB)
Jesus instructs his followers to take the dokos out of their own eye before assisting someone else. This Greek word is translated alternately “log” (CEV, ESV, HCSB, NASB, NLT, NRSV, RSV), “beam” (ASV, KJV) and “plank” (NIV, NKJV).

Donald A. Hagner (b. 1936) defines:

κάρφοσ [karphos] refers to a small peck of anything (perhaps here “sawdust,” given the meaning of δοκός [dokos]) that may get in a person’s eyes; here it is used metaphorically to indicate some slight or insignificant shortcoming. The repeated reference in these verses to “your brother” indicates that it is primarily the Christian community that is in view. δοκός, “log,” is an intentionally ludicrous exaggeration in its contrast to the speck of sawdust. What is a tiny flaw in another is seen so clearly by a censorious person, while ironically what is an outrageously huge failure in the latter is conveniently overlooked altogether. It is the self-righteous, censorious person who is particularly eager to correct the faults of others. (Hagner, Matthew 1-13 (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 33a), 169)
The illustration emphasizes that one’s own obstruction is far larger than her neighbor’s. R.T. France (1938-2012) analyzes:
This grotesque illustration, drawn from the carpenter’s workshop, exposes graphically the hypocrisy of the sort of criticism condemned in Matthew 7:1-2. The speck (karphos, a tiny splinter of wood or straw; the word is used in secular Greek metaphorically for something minute) and the log (more literally a beam or rafter) in the eye are found also in two Rabbinic sayings, perhaps derived from Jesus’ illustration (Arakhin 16b; BB 15b). (France, Matthew: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), 143)
As France notes, the same imagery is found elsewhere. Daniel J. Harrington (b. 1940) surveys:
The fantastic images of the wood chip and the beam illustrate the process of fraternal correction based on Leviticus 19:17: “you shall reason with your neighbor.” The advice is given to the one who offers the correction that he should be of perfect integrity himself and not a “hypocrite” (Matthew 7:5). The same image is used in a rabbinic saying (b. Arak. 16b) but with the roles reversed: “Rabbi Tarfon said: ‘I wonder whether there is anyone in this generation who accepts reproof, for if one say to him: “Remove the mote from between your eyes,” he would answer, “Remove the beam from between your eyes.”’” (Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew (Sacra Pagina), 103)
Jesus is depicting the critic as a blind ophthalmologist. Craig S. Keener (b. 1960) explains:
One blinds oneself by rationalizing away one’s guilt (Matthew 7:3-5; also Matthew 6:22-23; cf. Romans 2:1-3; Tert. Apol. 39.14). A splinter or wood chip in one’s eye might render one blind, but a plank imbedded in one’s eye would certainly render one blind. The graphic, even hyperbolic...consider the absurdity of one’s walking around with an thick roof beam protruding from one’s eye (as if either end of it would even fit!), totally ignorant of one’s impossibly grotesque state. Just as one would not want someone blind leading one into a pit (Matthew 15:14, 23:16), one would not want a blind eye surgeon operating on one’s eyes. Only one who sees well is competent to heal others’ source of blindness (cf. Matthew 9:27-31, 20:29-34); thus one must “pluck out” (cf. Matthew 5:30) any impediments to sight. (Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, 241)
The image is intended to be absurd and naturally lends itself to caricature. It is an example of Jesus’ humor. Matt Woodley (b. 1960) expounds:
In other words, imagine there’s a man with a huge beam protruding from his eye attempting to perform delicate surgery on your eye. His beam keeps smashing into your face–and everyone else around him—but he’s oblivious to his own problem. It’s funny. And that’s you, Jesus observes, when you perpetuate the cycle of judgment and condemnation. With this illustration Jesus tells us how idiotic we are, but he does it with warmth and humor. He could have shown contempt for the contemptuous and hated those who hate, but that would have accelerated our wretched pattern of judgment. Instead, Jesus threw the wrench of mercy into our hate-filled cycle, causing it to sputter and then grind to a halt. (Woodley, The Gospel of Matthew: God with Us, 90)
Humans often ignore their own shortcomings while maintaining unrealistically high expectations of others. This is why Jesus labels the offender a “hypocrite” (Matthew 7:5). The word and usage are virtually the same in English and in Greek (hupokrites). Strikingly, it is only here that the term is applied to Jesus’ disciples and not his opponents.

Michael J. Wilkins (b. 1949) pinpoints:

The real problem is that the accuser is a “hypocrite” (Matthew 7:5). Jesus uses the singular vocative, “You hypocrite,” here, which personalizes the accusation, implying that the hypocrisy is detected among Jesus’ own followers. As earlier (cf. Matthew 6:2, 5, 16), hypocrisy means to perform external acts of righteousness that mask, perhaps even from oneself, one’s own inner corruption...On the one hand, the hypocrisy may be a remedial sin that the disciple can eliminate through self-examination and confession (Matthew 7:5). On the other hand, the hypocrisy may reveal a more terminal sin. Throughout Jesus’ ministry certain people attached themselves to him, but they never truly believed. The primary example is Judas Iscariot, but there were many others who once called themselves disciples, yet never truly believed (e.g.. John 6:60-66). (Wilkins, Matthew (The NIV Application Commentary), 309-310)
Leon Morris (1914-2006) notes that “hypocrite” is especially apropos in this setting:
The word is singularly appropriate here where someone with a large fault is pictured as offering to help another whose disability is the most minor that could be imagined. Jesus is drawing attention to a curious feature of the human race in which a profound ignorance of oneself is so often combined with an arrogant presumption of knowledge about others, especially about their faults. (Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew (Pillar New Testament Commentary), 167)
John Nolland (b. 1947) contends that the offender is oblivious:
Here the hypocrite is not actually conscious of the misrepresentation, but the label indicates that he or she is responsible, nonetheless: the self-blindness is a result of culpable failure to perceive how things really are. (Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 320-321)
Lloyd John Ogilvie (b. 1930) suggests that not only is the log significantly bigger than the speck, but that the judgment itself is an even greater problem than the plank:
The sin in us is more serious to God than the sin in another that we criticize. The sin of negative judgment, in God’s eyes, is larger than the sin in the person we criticize. It is easy to criticize if we have never comprehended how deadly a sin this is. It eats away at us and breaks down not only our relationship with the people, but with God...The point of this pithy parable is that if we busy ourselves with the plank in our own eye, we will have less time and inclination to criticize. If our sour minds are sweetened by God’s forgiveness, we will have less negativism about others. (Ogilvie, God’s Best for My Life: A Classic Daily Devotional, 21)
This type of judgment is often an egotrip whereby we tear someone else down in order to build ourselves up. As the discourse illuminates, the sin we hate so much in another is often something we hate about ourselves. In his novel Demian: The Story of Emil Sinclair’s Youth, Herman Hesse (1877-1962) writes, “When we hate a person, what we hate in his image is something inside ourselves. Whatever isn’t part of us can’t excite us (Hesse, 73).”

Psychologists have termed this common phenomenon projection. Both Jesus and Paul addressed the subject (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 2:1-3, 21-23). Frank Minirth (b. 1946) and Paul Meier (b. 1945) inform:

Many “loners” will imagine that other people do not want to get close to them. In reality, they are rejecting the intimacy of others. But in their imagination they blame others because they do not want to become aware of their own irresponsibility. This defense mechanism is known as projection, because they are “projecting” their own rejecting behavior onto others in much the same way that a slide projector projects the slide within itself onto a screen. Matthew 7:3–5 is an excellent description of projection and its hypocrisy. (Minirth and Meier, Happiness Is a Choice: The Symptoms, Causes, and Cures of Depression, 55)
Myron S. Augsburger (b. 1929) sees judgment as evidence of one’s own ignorance of her true nature (Romans 3:23):
Respect for others is an indication of one’s own self-understanding. The awareness of the complexity of our own lives and the limitations of our own nature should help us to be more considerate and understanding of others. This does not mean that, by an attitude of acceptance towards others, we are thereby endorsing their practice. But we can be discerning without being judgmental. The approach of love is to use personal power or privilege to benefit another. And the sanctity of service is realized only as we serve another in the way which that person wishes to be served, else, in serving in the way we wish to serve them, we are actually determining or controlling their lifestyle. In fellowship with another we affirm the worth of the other personality without copying or subscribing to his total life pattern. Hence, to build the community of the kingdom, Jesus asks His disciples to avoid censoriousness, to avoid prejudgment or prejudice, to refrain from stereotyping persons which thereby limits their possibilities for fulfillment. (Augsburger, Matthew (The Preacher’s Commentary), 90)
Do you think the original audience found Jesus’ macabre image offensive? Who do you hold to higher standards, yourself or others? Can you think of an example of projection? Have you ever judged someone harshly without realizing that you were guilty of the same sin? Is their actually fault in the brother or is the issue simply wrong judgment? Is Jesus informing that Christians are entirely prohibited from judging?

R.T. Kendall (b. 1935) examines:

Matthew 7:5 is surely saying at least one of three things: No one ever gets rid of the plank; therefore, no one can ever judge...We can get rid of the plank and then—and only then—can we judge another person...The best situation occurs when one focuses on his or her own plank, and then self-effacingly offers correction to another in a way that will be most welcomed...What is our Lord’s purpose in these words? He wants to help us in the difficult situations we confront in life and bring a balance between a godly, forgiving spirit and an attitude of judgmentalism. (Kendall, Total Forgiveness, 127)
Like most of Jesus’ teachings, some have taken this admonition against judging to the extreme. N.T. Wright (b. 1948) relays:
This does not mean (as some have thought) that no follower of Jesus should ever be a magistrate. God intends that his world should be ordered, and that injustice should be held in check. Jesus is referring, not to official lawcourts, but to the judgments and condemnations that occur within ordinary lives, as people set themselves up as moral guardians and critics of one another. (Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (New Testament for Everyone), 69)
Stanley Hauerwas (b. 1940) asserts:
The disciples are not to judge because any judgment that needs to be made has been made. For those who follow Jesus to act as if they can, on their own, determine what is good and what is evil is to betray the work of Christ. Therefore, the appropriate stance for the acknowledgment of evil is the confession of sin. We quite literally cannot see clearly unless we have been trained to see “the log that is in [our] eye.” But it is not possible for us to see what is in our eye because the eye cannot see itself. That is why we are able to see ourselves only through the vision made possible by our participation in a community of forgiveness that allows us to name our sins. (Hauerwas, Matthew (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible), 85)
David E. Garland (b. 1947) counters:
The crucial phrase is “first cast out.” Jesus is not directing disciples never to judge others but stressing that their first responsibility is to purify themselves. They have not been called to be moral or theological watchdogs over others (see Romans 14:4). A cartoon typical of Semitic humor warns against trying to remove a sliver from a brother’s eye without first doing the logging on oneself. The order is judge oneself first, then one can see clearly to help, not condemn, another. One is also to remember that the brother’s sliver is just that, a sliver. The real danger of a judgmental spirit is not simply that one will get back what one dishes out to others (see Matthew 18:35), but that it strangles the love for the other. (Garland, Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel, 84-85)
Citing contextual evidence, Grant R. Osborne (b. 1942) agrees:
The hypocrisy is pretending you have no faults as you look down on someone else and criticize them. While many have interpreted this to mean you should not judge at any time, that clearly does not fit the context, for Matthew 7:6 in many ways is a judgment as to whether an individual is worthy of the gospel...It is obvious here that once you have dealt with your problems, you will have “clear” sight to help others with their difficulties. (Osborne, Matthew (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 203)
W.D. Davies (1911-2001) and Dale C. Allison (b. 1950) concur:
In Matthew 7:3 one simply sees (blepein). In Matthew 7:5 one sees clearly (diablepein). In the latter instance one sees in order to help. The stare to find fault becomes the genuinely friendly eye of a brother or sister who is a servant. Some commentators fail to discern in Matthew 7:3-5 any instruction concerning fraternal correction. For them, the text prohibits judging altogether. But Matthew shows a special concern elsewhere for the proper procedures of dealing with sin in others; see Matthew 18:15-20. (Allison, Matthew: A Shorter Commentary, 106)
Ulrich Luz (b. 1938) adds:
The admonition to think first of the log in one’s own eye is—like the admonitions to forgo the use of force (Matthew 5:39-41)—an exemplary illustration of the principle of Matthew 7:1. Thus the verses by no means want to limit the principle of not judging only to the admonition to see first the log in one’s own eye when one deals with the neighbor. Rather it is a specific example in the area of interpersonal relations. The sharpness of the verses lies not in the fact that the ego of the judging individual is put in a new light. The judging one becomes one who is judged. The tangible power of the metaphors is impressive. The hyperboles of the splinter and the log are “a blow struck at the heart of the man who know good and evil.” The listener is questioned, is startled. The direct address with “you” (singular) intensifies this effect. (Luz, Matthew 1-7: A Commentary (Hermeneia: A Critical & Historical Commentary on the Bible), 417)
Douglas R.A. Hare (b. 1929) writes that the passage speaks to judmentalism not judging:
The word “judgmentalism” does not appear in all dictionaries, but it names a phenomenon we know all too well. 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 access the failings of others...It is in response to God’s overwhelming mercy that we renounce the habit of harshly judging others. Matthew is well aware of this connection, as is indicated by his later inclusion of the parable of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew 18:23-25). Just as we forgive because we have been forgiven, so we are generous in our judgment of others because God has dealt generously with us. (Hare, Matthew (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching), 76)
Michael Green (b. 1930) concludes that being judgmental should never be one of the defining qualities of a Christian:
Instead of the critical spirit, disciples should be known for their humility, recognizing their own shortcomings. They should also be known for their helpful spirit, wiling to alleviate the troubles of others by practical help rather than adding to them by carping criticism. (Green, The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven (Bible Speaks Today), 106)
When do you judge others? When you judge someone else, do you remember to inspect yourself first? What planks do you need to remove from your own eye?

“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” - Wayne W. Dyer (b. 1940), You’ll See It When You Believe It: The Way to Your Personal Transformation, p. 267

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