ʺJesus said to his disciples: ‘Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your own eye,’ whole the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.ʺ
The truth at the core of this passage makes us uncomfortable. We are pulled up short by the sudden sting of our own consciences, by the recognition of the fact that we are guilty of judging people all the time. And who are we judging them against? Ourselves, of course. ʺTheyʺ are not like us. When we judge like this it is a matter of pride. We are attempting to separate ourselves from the other. We do this often, because we are trying to affirm ourselves as better than the other. But in the light of our Christian faith, we know that Jesus came to forgive all men and women, because all men and women are sinners, all make mistakes out of ignorance, or out of sheer willfulness. Yes, even ourselves. But, as Jesus points out to us very sharply here, when we judge others, we often do so out of a false sense of self-righteousness. When we judge it is often to put the other down. Such judgments are not done for the good of the other either. Rather, they are done consciously, or unconsciously to compare ourselves as better than the other.
There is a divine moral logic in this passage that we often fail to recognize. It is this that brings us up short, if we have sufficient humility to hear it. What is this logic that, if we are humble enough to hear it, makes us wince with self-recognition? It is in Jesus’ follow up remark, ʺFor as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure (of judgment) with which you measure will be measured out to you.ʺ There it is! Think for a minute of the attitude we often have inside of ourselves when we are judging another. Do we not judge them because we see ourselves as better than them? On the other hand, it is very clear that Jesus does not judge in the manner that we do. There was no ʺbeamʺ in his eye. Jesus did not judge. When he called the Pharisees hypocrites, it was not to condemn them, but to get them to see what they were doing, to challenge them to turn away from their ways. He challenged, but he did not judge in the manner that we do. Instead, he forgave. Thank God! For if he judged in the manner that we judge, we would have all been damned.
Jesus gives us a new way of understanding one another here. He says, ʺ…remove the beam from your eye; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.ʺ This passage does not mean that we are now somehow ʺfreeʺ from making any judgments about true, identifiable acts of injustice in the world, or from removing the splinter the other’s eye. We are not told here to just sit back and let evil deeds continue unabated, or to go unpunished. We are all still responsible for naming evil and for dealing with what is truly unjust. We are to work together, with our neighbors and the whole of society to bring about better, more equal, more fair justice for all. Unjust deeds, though, are not always great and disturbing horrors. For example, when I lie to gain some advantage over another, or when my gossip helps to tarnish the reputation or worth of another, or when I cheat successfully and then get all self-righteous when someone else gets caught doing so, these hypocrisies deserve to be judged for what they are too. These are the ʺbeamsʺ that are in our eyes. It is these beams that must be removed in order to be able to see clearly enough to then, ‘help’ my brother or sister to remove the splinter in his or her eye. This can only be done out of true humility.
Jesus is telling us that, instead of judging one another out of self-righteousness, we are to learn humility. It is only out of humility that we will be able to be compassionate with one another. We will be able to do this only after we have thoroughly examined our own consciences and removed the ʺbeamsʺ from our own eyes. Jesus is challenging us in this passage to develop the moral habit of humility. It is humility that gives us the kind of understanding and love that is necessary to change both ourselves and others. We are called to be humble toward God and toward each other. ʺFor as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.ʺ Let us all pray on that for a while and let it sink into the depths of our souls. And know that God will give us the grace to succeed in our efforts to become humble like this.