The lumberyard of the eyes
This first verse from today’s Gospel (Matthew 7:1-5) sometimes appears on signs waved by people protesting against religious conservatives.
“Who are you to judge us?” they say. “Aren’t you being a hypocrite? What about your religious leaders and all those scandals?"
(The scandals never seem to abate, as Our Lord Himself warned us. Lately, for example, many of the Faithful have been distressed by the moral failures of two very prominent Catholics: a telegenic priest as well as a layman who had created an extraordinarily powerful film about Christ.)
"And what kinds of skeletons are rattling in your personal closet?" our opponents say. "You may think you’re holier-than-thou, but you’re not.”
Today’s Gospel is a familiar one, but it is also a challenge that must be wrestled with continually by anyone who is serious about truth and faith and about right and wrong.
When our Lord tells us not to “judge,” he is not telling us to pretend that evil is not evil or to be silent about moral truth.
Most of us understand that judgment belongs to God alone. Only God can judge the state of someone’s soul for only God sees so perfectly, so completely, and so objectively. We cannot even judge ourselves - perfect objectivity and self-knowledge eludes even the best of us (we all have wooden beams and splinters in our eyes).
(Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, be merciful to me - a sinner.)
Even so, through Christ’s grace and as part of our response to his call to holiness, we can and must recognize sinfulness, see how we fall short (God knows I do!), strive for greater perfection, and help others along the same path to holiness.
As we do this, as we help each other on the road to holiness, we do not always make this context explicit and thus we might be perceived as judging others or being ‘holier-than-thou’ when we make concrete statements about morality.
Sometimes it is not just a matter of other people’s perceptions: sometimes we truly can be arrogant in our denunciations of other people’s sins and smug (foolishly!) about our own virtue, forgetting that we ourselves are miserable sinners totally dependent on the grace and the mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, we can sometimes be so intimidated by our own unworthiness that we may fail to speak the truth, disregarding both the command of Christ to speak his truth and also the power of his grace.
We are not perfect – not as individuals and not even as a human community – but ultimately it isn’t about us.
We are not involved with my truth or your truth or Joseph Ratzinger’s truth, but God’s holy truth: you and I and even Pope Benedict himself are simply servants of God’s word.
Some of us may be more intelligent (or less), more saintly (or less), or gifted with ministerial or other charisms (or not so much), but the authority and truth of the Gospel comes not from us but from God.
We are all sinners – our eyes are full of splinters, wooden beams, and all kinds of lumber – but we are all called to holiness in Christ and by God’s grace to help each other on the way.
(adapted from an earlier post)