Recently I’ve replaced the carpet in my sitting room. Mainly because it was completely worn out and due to be replaced. Secondly, because I had quite a collection of planks I’d taken out of my eyes; it would have been wasteful to simply throw them away. Now my sitting room looks better with the new floor and I’ve incidentally produced storage space for more planks I will take out of my eyes in the coming days, weeks and months. Thankfully, there’s more carpet in the parish house in need of replacement, so any planks in the future will find a useful purpose.
Last Sunday’s gospel urged us to love our enemies, to present the other cheek, to lend without expectations of return and so on – demands that could make us pretty uncomfortable. Unlike last Sunday’s, today’s gospel seems to be relatively tame. But it’s only an illusion. In fact, it refers to one of the most common habits of ours – criticism of others. We are extremely good at finding people’s vices, shortcomings, imperfections, defects, flaws and so on. We are quite quick to assume someone’s ill-will, malevolence, evil or dubious motivations. Funnily enough, we are similarly highly skilled at finding and offering explanations or justifications for our own faults. There’s a rather strange link between our ability to absolve ourselves and to judge others; the harsher my judgement of others, the more lenient is my judgment of myself.
In that case, should we shut our mouth and neither say nor do anything when confronted with challenging behaviour or attitudes, until we have become spotlessly perfect? If so, it would mean that nobody – myself included – would say or do anything. Because nobody’s perfect, nobody’s flawless. We are all weak and imperfect individuals. And yet we have to make assessments of other people; of their traits, attitudes and behaviour. It’s an essential skill for starting and developing our relationships; the fleeting ones with our acquaintances and those long-term, as with our families and friends. Without making assessments we would expose ourselves to every kind of fraud, exploitation or abuse; simply put, we’d be naive.
Gosh, how to square this darn circle? The clue is in the gospel, and it’s just one word: ‘Hypocrite.’ It’s about my motivation, my reason to point out others’ shortcomings. When we give some thought to it, most of the time we criticise others for two main reasons: to boost my own ego, pride, self-respect and so on; or because I want to turn someone into myself. Both attitudes are wrong. The former belittles others, while the latter stifles their unique development. What Jesus teaches us in today’s gospel is a completely different attitude. It’s compassionate understanding driven by charitable yearning for one’s unique growth and advancement. Or in other, more practical words: apply your harsh judgment to your own shortcomings and imperfections, but be lenient to others’ flaws. In that way you have a chance to take the plank out of your eye to help those with splinters in their eyes. And by the way, you can leave that plank of yours with me; I’m quite good at DIY.