The use of hyperbole can illustrate a point in dramatic and memorable ways. By exaggerating an idea, that idea is highlighted to powerful and surprising effect.
There may be no greater example of the masterful use of hyperbole than Jesus’ story contrasting a speck of sawdust and a plank of wood.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.Matthew 7:3-5 (New International Version)
It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? The idea of having a plank of wood, some 2×4, lodged in one’s eye. But this is just the kind of exaggeration that makes the point. Where should our concern lie, with the speck in someone else’s eye or the board, log, stick, plank obstructing our own vision?
Note, a speck in your eye is still a matter to be dealt with. Who hasn’t had an eyelash, a piece of debris (sawdust? ouch!), or some other particle fall into our eye? It’s irritating at the least and can cause real damage if it isn’t washed out.
This isn’t Jesus’ point. He’s not arguing we should ignore the “specks,” the seemingly small sins that we encounter. The point is we need to attend to our own issues before we have any hope of helping others.
This is a story about judging others instead of dealing with our own junk.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.Matthew 7:1-2
Being able to see ourselves clearly, not better than or worse than we are, may be the hardest thing for any of us to do. We are puffed up and torn down by so many sources, including our own perceptions, that filtering out the noise takes real effort.
What is the first thing Adam and Eve do after disobeying/turning away from/sinning against God? They try to hide. They seek to cover themselves up.
Being “naked” before God and ourselves, is hard. So, I deflect. I point out the specks in other’s eyes as a way of avoiding dealing with my own failings and faults. Which is itself a failing and a fault. It’s a vicious spiral of blaming and shaming which leaves me struggling to hurt others before they can hurt me. Or, in my better moments, withdrawing and holding back parts of myself which I am ashamed to show and to have you know.
Where does that leave us? Isolated. Alone. Cut-off. The very antithesis of communion God has created us to enjoy.
During this week of “forgiving” perhaps you’ll forgive me for the times I have pointed toward your speck out of fear or shame. Maybe, I will start dealing with my own plank and worry less about what is in the eye’s of others. Who knows, maybe I’ll start to “see” and with my improving vision recognize the work I’m called to is not to fix you but to be loved by the one nailed to the accumulated planks we insisted weren’t ours. I hope as I live into that love, others may decide they want to “see” as well.
Life is better together,