(A four minute read)
It sounds like a physics problem: The Speck-Plank Conundrum. It’s not – it’s a moral one. That’s the bad news. The good news is that although a conundrum is a knotty problem, it is one that does have a solution.
It’s an oldie but a goodie and the classic line about hypocrisy. You know it either from Luke 6 or Matthew 7. Jesus asks, ‘Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not see the beam that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye” when you yourself do not see the beam that is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”’ 1
Speck, mote – two translations of the Greek κάρφος (karphos) which means ‘straw’.
Plank, beam, log – all these images are used by the gospel translators for the Greek δοκός (dokos) which means ‘a stick of timber.’
Actually Jesus walks us through several examples of our hypocrisy in this passage – I think he wants to make sure we can’t possibly miss the point.
Considering other parts of this passage, If I am blind about something, can I lead anyone anywhere? Yes, but nowhere good.
If I’m a student of Christ, can I possibly know better than he does? No, but having the mind of Christ, I can grow in his likeness.
When I judge others, don’t I do this to feel superior? Yes, always. Isn’t this why Jesus tells us to love our enemies? He wants humility from us.
Finally, since Holy Spirit lives in me – will I not exhibit his good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?
Well – yes and no. At least not always.
That’s because I’m a work in progress. Look at Luke 6:45.
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
My mouth speaks (and leads me to act) based on what’s in my heart. Knowing that, I know I have a ways to go.
Before I was saved, I spent a lot more time judging people than I do now. In fact, it was an occupation at times – like when I was employed to write editorials, and again, when I was employed to write comedy. Being un-saved I thought of this quality as ‘discernment.’
Well no, it wasn’t. Now that I have a relationship with Jesus, I know what discernment is. And yet, growing in discernment doesn’t release me from the speck-plank conundrum. That’s because some evil bits still remain in my heart, and work subtly on my behavior.
Here’s an example. About a year ago, going to my local cash point, I passed a homeless man sitting on the pavement staring at the floor. As I passed him, my so-called discernment showed me he was angry, possibly violent, and had a chip on his shoulder. I often will stop and spend time with the floor-squatters and perhaps even give them a gift, but not this guy. I marched right past.
After inserting my debit card and entering my pin I glanced back at him. Suddenly I saw him very differently. It was as though Jesus was there, saying ‘Here’s how I see him.’ And no longer was there an angry disaffected man sitting there, but a lost, frightened boy.
He called himself Frankie. He’d been in and out of prison since he was 18 and tired of it. He wants to make changes in his life. He needed encouragement. He needed a friend. He needed someone to take the plank out of his own eye and just sit with him.
Funny that. When I removed the plank from my own eye, I no longer saw any speck in his eye. His eye was clear. All I saw was someone created in God’s image, in his likeness.
I am sometimes blind. I all too often put myself ahead of Jesus. I do suffer from the speck-plank conundrum. But the fruit I bear is often good – thanks to Holy Spirit and the things he helps me store in my heart. May I continue to be planted next to his living water.
Heavenly Father, in your mercy, forgive us where we have been blind. Remove that blindness. Holy Spirit, write your words on our hearts, so that we only bear good fruit. Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom to follow you, and not get ahead of you. Make us good carpenters – who know the difference between a speck of sawdust and a plank of wood. In your mighty name we pray. Amen.
Photo: Victor Freitas via Pexels