I wonder how many times I’ve had someone approach me after a sermon or class I had taught and said, “I’m glad you made that point, my wife sure needed that. I punched her when you said it just to make sure she was listening.” It isn’t always a husband. It has just as often been a wife or parent or even someone who just knew someone else in the crowd needed it. Other times it has been, “Man that was a great point. I just wish my friend had been here to hear it. He sure needed that.”
It is amazing how easy it is to see the needs, faults and sins of the other person, and how difficult it is to see our own. Remember Jesus Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay not attention to the 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 your brother’s eye.” At least the first part of this quotation from Jesus is about as well known as any segment of Scripture today. Every time we point out something that isn’t right in the world, someone is going to chime in, “But we aren’t to judge others.”
Notice a couple of things in this whole reading. First, it doesn’t condemn all kinds of judging. The truth is Jesus was making some judgements at the time. He was pointing out that judging others, without taking a look at our own lives doesn’t work. We are going to be judged by the very same measure we use to judge others. He isn’t saying never make a judgment of anyone or anything, but don’t expect to make a judgment and not have the other person look back at your life and make some judgments of their own. Imagine meeting someone on the street and saying to them, “Did you know you have your shirt on backwards? By the way, your slacks and shirt don’t match at all either.” Would you be surprised if the person looked back at us and pointed out some failures in the way we were dressed as well.
The second point Jesus made was that we often judge in other things that aren’t nearly as bad as the problems or sins we have in our own life. We wish to get the speck of sawdust from their eye while we have a plank in our own eye. Now, notice, Jesus didn’t say that you don’t need to worry about sawdust. After all if we have sawdust in our eyes we want help getting it out. But to try to correct the problems in another person’s life when we have something far worse is ridiculous. His point is that we need to take a long look in the mirror at ourselves and correct our own problems before trying to help another person with theirs.
Over in James chapter 1, James takes the point a step further. He pictures a man who hears the word of God as being like a man looking into a mirror and seeing the things in his life that need correcting, but simply walking away and doing nothing about it. “But whoever looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, not being a forgetful hearer but a doer of the word, this man will be blessed in his deeds.” (James 1:25)
On two occasions Luke tells of people pointing out to Jesus someone else that he needed to correct. In Luke 10:38-42 Jesus and the disciples came to the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany. Mary was intent on hearing everything Jesus had to say and was sitting at his feet. Martha was busy trying to serve the crowd of people. Martha became frustrated that she was working so hard and Mary was just sitting there listening. So Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Jesus responded, “Martha, Martha you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.” Can you imagine this whole scene? I picture Martha as the older sister and the one definitely in charge. In that time women normally didn’t sit down with the men when there was any discussion going on. Their place was in the kitchen serving. But Jesus didn’t buy into the traditions that led to such separation. Martha must have thought that Jesus would agree with her and simply command that Mary get up and get about helping with the serving. Amazing isn’t it that he corrected Martha and told her she needed to stop fretting over the whole thing. He pretty much told her to leave Mary alone, she had chosen the better thing to do. Probably when he said you are worried about many things and few are needed, actually only one, he was referring to the different dishes or types of food to be offered and he is saying we only need one thing. Her values had been placed on the wrong thing and needed to change.
In Luke 12:13-21 Jesus had been giving instructions to the disciples and the crowd on how to live. He had just made the point that if they were brought before authorities they shouldn’t worry about what they would say since the Holy Spirit would give it to them at that moment. Suddenly, a man in the crowd spoke up, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Obviously this man wasn’t really into what Jesus was talking about. He had brought his own worries and concerns with him that day when he came to Bible study. His concern was that his brother didn’t want to divide the inheritance with him. Probably the brother was his older brother and would become the executor of the will. As the younger brother he feels he is being left out. So, why not ask Jesus for help?
Jesus first response was, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he added, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” What a shock this had to have been for the man! He was seeking help to get his share and instead Jesus warned about greed and that life wasn’t mainly about our possessions. But Jesus wasn’t through with the discussion. As was so often the case, it led to a story from Jesus. “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
The big lesson is that any time people tried to get Jesus to point his teaching toward someone other than them or to use him to tell others how they should act, he turned back to the one who asked. He pointed directly at them lessons they needed desperately to learn. Martha needed to do her work without all the frustration and anger toward Mary. The brother needed to get him mind on more than just his inheritance.
Think about the very fact he gave such clear teaching to the ones who were not looking for more teaching demonstrates that we all need to look inward instead to thinking about how we wish someone else would learn this point. It also demonstrates that Jesus saw everyone, even the one who didn’t think they had a problem, as one who needed teaching and as ones who could change. He wanted to redeem even the ones who thought they were already redeemed.