The mote and the beam
George Carlin once noted a universal rule of the road: Everyone who drives slower than you is an idiot. And everyone who drives faster is a maniac.
To the speeding driver, everyone’s an idiot. To the slow driver, everyone’s a maniac. But one rule applies to all: My speed is just right.
Hypocrisy is not limited to the highway. It thrives in religion. And Jesus saw the hypocrisy of religious leaders all around him. They couldn’t give to charity without blowing a trumpet to announce it (Matthew 6:1-4). They couldn’t pray without standing on a street corner to advertise it (Matthew 6:5-15). They couldn’t fast without disfiguring their faces so that all would know their ascetic piety (Matthew 6:16-18). And such self-righteous pillars of the community could not help judging the hoi polloi (Matthew 7:1-2).
They had invested so much in their own displays of righteousness. If they sensed that others did not match up, they were quick to find fault and boost their standing even further.
When Jesus saw their hypocrisy, He likened it to an ophthalmologist tut-tutting about the speck in his patient’s eye – whilst a plank of 4-by-2 protrudes from his own.
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)
It is an image both comical and painful. We can imagine a convention of hypocrites, a tangle of eye foliage and grumbling as they bemoan the dust they’ve spotted in others. “Sheesh”, “Typical”, “For shame”, “Who said that?”, “Bill is that you? I can’t see.”
What’s the way out of such hypocrisy?
Firstly, laugh. Not at others, at yourself. This is what Jesus encourages with His humorous word pictures. See the absurdity of your own smugness. Bring to mind your over-inflated sense of self and burst that bubble with a sharp dose of self-ridicule. What am I like? I look like a human Dalek with a tree-trunk poking out of my eye-socket murmuring about the state of someone’s eye-grit. I am ridiculous and need to stop taking myself so seriously.
Secondly, get proportion. I have the beam. You have the mote. In every relationship that’s the proportion. The problem is 99% me, 1% you. Of course from your perspective it’s 99% you, but I leave that for you to figure out. My burden is the beam. Always. That’s my priority.
Therefore, thirdly, every time I feel a critical spirit rising it’s an opportunity, not for conceit, but for contrition. When I see sin in others my response should not be “Phew, at least I’m not as bad as that!” It should be to question: “How is my sin reflected in this?” Perhaps I do the same thing. Perhaps I commit some equivalent sin – the modus operandi changed, the motive the same. Or perhaps my superiority complex is what needs addressing.
Finally, look at Jesus. When He came among us, He was the only one to see clearly. Being sinless He is the only human who has ever truly appreciated the human condition for what it is – depraved, distorted, dead. And yet His response was not to fold His arms, shake His head and say “Shame on you.” He opened His arms, bowed His head and said “Shame on me.” It’s astonishing grace. And it shatters our pride.