(Appeared first in June 2010, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, “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 the other person’s eye.—Matthew 7:5 TNIV
It can be painful to notice a problem with someone’s eyes; my own eyes easily water in sympathy. Who wouldn’t quickly volunteer to help if it could make a difference for a brother or sister with an obvious eye problem? Whether it be a speck or plank needing to be removed, I would surely want to help. Yet Jesus warns that obstacles to our own vision hinder our ability to help others.
Jesus used this figure of speech to speak of the way we naturally try to correct other’s moral or spiritual problems. All across our nation, Christians are attempting to do what Jesus warned against, hoping to correct the vision of fellow Christians. We have become polarized, raising shrill voices in judgment against those on the opposite “side” of a number of social issues. Even Mennonite congregations at times reflect this shrill tone toward church members affiliated with a different political party.
I’m particularly concerned about the way we conduct churchwide meetings with large and diverse groups of people. As may be expected, many of us come eager to point out the shortcomings of those who disagree with us on certain social issues. We are convinced that it is our Christian duty to remove the specks that limit our fellow Christian’s vision.
It can be painful to belong to a fellowship in which others don’t see eye to eye with us on things that matter. It is frustrating when people resist our attempts to make things right in the church. We can easily leave such meetings disappointed and angry. We may even vow never to return. It seems far more satisfying to be at meetings where our deepest beliefs are confirmed, our commitments are applauded and our egos are stroked. Yet we must ask ourselves, How is this working for our church? What might Jesus have to say in this situation?
Upon reflection, I have come to see that some of the times of greatest growth in my life took place at meetings where I saw my sinfulness and the limits of my own vision. Ironically, these experiences came about, not because someone was forcibly trying to remove a speck from my eye but when I saw others remove the planks from their own eyes. Nothing has been more spiritually motivating for me than to see mature Christians confessing their sins and faults to one another, inviting others to help them gain clearer vision.
Perhaps that is why James instructs the believers: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (5:16).
That is why I long for church gatherings in which we can each feel safe enough to confess our own sins, whether in public or in private. It can be a place of healing in the church.
I long for every worship gathering of Mennonite Church USA to be a place where each person can gain a greater vision of God’s glory, love and grace. Further, I hope that worship can lead each participant to respond to God’s initiative by removing any obstacles that cloud their vision of God or others. May God enable it to be so.