Worrying about our own planks

The gospel of Matthew is very interesting. It is one of the three Gnostic gospels, meaning that it has similar stories to Mark and Luke, it was written about the same time as the gospel of Luke, somewhere between 85 and 90 AD and it is the gospel that was clearly written for a Jewish Christian audience that was living within the immediate proximity of the holy land itself. Matthew’s is the most Jewish of all the gospels so, perhaps, that is why today’s gospel seems to focus on the law and worrying if others were following it properly.

It is said that the Jewish Laws were not intended as a set of obligations but guides to help the avid follower to find meaning in their lives. Today’s gospel starts at the beginning of the seventh chapter of Matthew, verses 1 through 5. Chapter six, the previous chapter, begins with, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise, you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” It goes on to warn against acting like the hypocrites and tells us how we should pray, by giving us the Our Father.

In this context, today’s Gospel would seem to make perfect sense. Jesus is talking about how we are to act and treat others. He say that we should not store up treasures on earth but in heaven. That we should not be worries about things of the earth, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

So, it follows that we should not judge our neighbors. What could we even judge them against? Things of the world? Would we judge if they were nice enough? .. Holy enough? … Generous enough? … “for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Maybe we are right, maybe our neighbor is in fact terrible at all of these but that is not the question. The question is how is our niceness? … how is our holiness? .. how is our generosity?

The last line in Matthew 6 is, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And then the first line in Matthew 7 is, “do not judge so that you will not be judged”.

It is almost as if Jesus is saying that we have enough to deal with out going and looking for something else to do. The verses right after today’s reading read, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” God loves us dearly; we should not cheapen that with pettiness and jealousy.

There is a funny line in the movie “The Secret life of Walter Mitty”. The hero is hiking in the Himalayas, and he get a call on his cell phone. He answers and it is the help desk representative from eHarmony who is trying to “spruce up Walter’s online profile so that he looks more interesting to perspective dating interests. Walter’s first comment was to say how surprised he was that his cell phone receives a signal up in the Himalayas and the second comment was, “Hey Todd, I’m going to keep this short. I have to make oxygen choices right now.” Remember, he is hiking above 15 thousand feet. Maybe that is the point that Jesus is making in this reading. We have to make oxygen choices. We need to choose what is important in our lives. We don’t deny that we each have planks in our own eyes, the question is whether we should be expending energy worrying about the speck of dust in our neighbor’s.

This reading is very familiar. We all have heard it and probably have used it. We know that I means that we should stop being “judgey” and overly critical, but how often do we see it as being about “oxygen choices”. How often is this Gospel about keeping “the main thing the main thing”.

The first reading says, ““Give up your evil ways and keep my commandments and statutes, in accordance with the entire law which I enjoined on your fathers and which I sent you by my servants the prophets.”

“the entire law”, even the one that goes, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

When we think about, this is what we should be spending our oxygen on. It will probably take all that we got.

MT 7: 1-5

Jesus 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 eye,’
while 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.

June 20, 2022

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