This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Getting the Log Out.


Luke 6:37-49

I.
            Jesus continues teaching his disciples.  And he continues depicting an upside-down, reversed world, based on his command to “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  In other words, his disciples are supposed to act like God.  
            But the God they are supposed to act like is not a vindictive, punishing, retributive, condemning deity, always scrutinizing our behavior, ready to zap us when we mess up.  Jesus doesn’t seem to know much about that god.  The God that Jesus knows is all about mercy, healing, freedom, and justice.
            As far as the bad things that happen to people, Jesus appears more willing to attribute that to the fact that people do everything they can to resist God’s mercy, healing, freedom, and justice.  Thereby they create friction and stress in the system which can even result in various kinds of disasters, personal, political, economic, and ecological.
            But for Jesus, the point is that if we act like God acts we will receive what God gives.  That is, as he says here, if we do not judge or condemn others, we will not be condemned ourselves.  If we forgive others, we will be forgiven ourselves.  What we give in this life is what we get back.  This sounds something like what some Asian religions call karma.
            At the same time, Jesus is not saying that if you are nice to people they will be nice to you.  Sometimes that works, but a lot of the time, as we all know, it doesn’t.  Jesus is not an idiot; he is aware that good people suffer.  What he is saying has to do not with strategies to get out of people the kind of response we want from them.  His advice has to do with our relationship with God. 
            It is not that if we don’t judge others they won’t judge us; it is that if we don’t judge others God will not judge or condemn us.  He is presenting us with a way of life that is concerned exclusively with doing what is right in God’s eyes.  Influencing other people is not a concern for him.  Our relationship with God, which is one of trust and obedience, is all that matters.
            So if the strategy of not judging, of forgiving, and giving generously do not result in getting people to act that way with you, that is not a surprise to Jesus.  It is in fact expected.  That doesn’t mean this approach didn’t “work.”  We have to change our criteria for deciding what “works.”
            When we judge people we condemn ourselves; our anger and our hatred does not harm the person we are angry with or hate.  But it does corrode and rot and otherwise erode our own souls.  To condemn others is to condemn ourselves to an existence of sour, nasty, small-minded, hyper-critical, self-stabbing rage.  To refuse to forgive others means we are not released from anger that infects us.  When we are ungenerous we kind of implode and withdraw into a greedy, avaricious, tightly closed, and self-suffocating knot.  We are the ones who suffer.

II.
            Then Jesus reminds the disciples that this kind of liberated life is not something we can do on our own.  On our own we are at best the blind leading the blind.  Disciples need a teacher, someone who has advanced considerably farther along the path to wholeness and vision.  A teacher is a guide who can see where the disciple can’t. 
            It makes a difference when we learn forgiveness from someone who has actually lived the forgiving life, who knows how difficult it is, who has navigated the pitfalls and challenges, who has mastered the temptations, who has paid their dues. 
            Then he tells this illustrative, grotesquely hyperbolic little parable about the person with a log in their eye criticizing someone for the speck in their eye.  He is saying, “Tend first to yourself.  Don’t worry about the imperfections and shortcomings of others until you have fully addressed your own shortcomings and imperfections.”  Indeed, often our own are wildly more severe… which is why we deny or repress them, and invest so much earnest energy in trying to fix other people.
            But we all approach the world with a veritable log in our eye.  It is a bizarre image, kind of like how we talk about “the elephant in the room.”  It’s the huge thing that everybody sees, but that we decide to ignore and pretend isn’t there at all.
            The log in our eye is the fact that our perceptions, reasoning, memories, feelings, and experiences are all inherently clouded, conditioned, twisted, and distorted by what we call sin.  We cannot see things as they truly are because our ego, the strategies we use to get what we need and want, and the fear that we won’t, block us.  We see everything through a lens clouded by our own fear, expectations, self-image, and personal narrative.  Until we get rid of that, we are of little use to anyone, least of all ourselves.
            It is the log in our eye that causes us to think that judging and condemning work as life-strategies.  I may even convince myself that I am helping you by criticizing you, condemning you, refusing to forgive you, and abstaining from giving you what you need.  We may even like to call it “tough love;” although that’s not what we call it when someone is doing it to us. 
            Criticizing, rejecting, denying, and binding others only appears to be effective, from the perspective of a log-blinded person.  But in reality these approaches don’t help anyone else, and they devastate and strangle our souls.

III.
            The log-blinded person, the person who continues to have their actions shaped by condemnation, retribution, and selfish avarice, Jesus says, has acquired a “treasure” of sorts in their heart that is evil.  I’m not sure what an “evil treasure” would look like, perhaps a vault full of tools of violence, exploitation, injustice, greed, and death.  They thus relate to the rich and popular people in verses 24 through 26, those who have received their reward in what profit they managed to squeeze out of the earth and people during their mortal existence. 
            What they have “gained” really is alienation and separation from God and from themselves.  Investing from this nasty treasure, they wreak havoc and violence in the world.  Jesus suggests they are like bad trees, invasive species perhaps that suck up the resources of the earth and drop poison, inedible fruit.  The bad tree is all about itself.  It gives nothing to others.
            But the person who has had an ocular log-ectomy, that is, someone who has had the log removed from their eye and who can now see clearly, lives in the real world, God’s world; that is, they live according to God’s values of mercy, forgiveness, healing, and generosity.  Thus they build up a good treasure in their hearts of hope, joy, blessing, love, and peace.  Jesus compares this person favorably to a productive fruit tree.  A good fruit tree gives away what it has.  That’s what makes it good.
            We’re not going to pick delicious figs or juicy grapes from a thorn or bramble bush.  And we’re not going to see selfless generosity from a person with the unwelcoming, abrasive, prickly, and sharp personality of a sticker-bush.  Not only do they have that log still sticking out of their eye, but they have found a way to hit you with it. 
            Jesus forces us to ask ourselves: Who are we really?  And he compels us to face the very real possibility that our fruit is, well, not so good.  He is like the judge at the 4H fair carefully assessing the produce of the contestants, and you’re standing there behind a table full of ivy, holly, and nightshade berries, all of which are lethal.  What if our fruits, that is, our actions, are permeated by poisonous self-interest, greed, violence, anger, fear, and hatred?
            Actual trees are what they are, and God loves them all.  But humans?  God loves us too, but Humans can change.  A “bramble bush” person can become a “fruitful grape vine” person.  We can change the kind of fruit we produce.  But we can’t do it by somehow engineering new fruit, or by deliberately trying to act differently.

IV.
            We can only change if our heart changes.  Instead of storing up the sour nutrients of sin, instead of taking from the earth and storing and hoarding resources, keeping them for ourselves, our treasure becomes the goodness of God flowing through us, and manifesting in the fruit we produce, that is: actions of blessing and peace, mercy and freedom.
            Jesus says that the person who comes to him, hears his words, and acts on them, is like a man who built his house securely with a foundation drilled deep into the bedrock.  No flood is powerful enough to dislodge it.
            First, we have to come to him.  Coming to him implicitly means turning our backs on “the-world-as-we-know it,” the distorted picture of the world that we get when our eye has a log sticking out of it.  In other words, we have to realize and admit our blindness.  These early chapters in Luke have featured many people coming to Jesus for healing.  They know they have a problem and they trust in him to restore them to wholeness.  We have to come to One who can see, a teacher.  In the 12-steps he is called the “higher power.”
            Second, he says, we have to hear his words.  He’s not just blowing smoke here.  Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the very Word by which the whole universe was spoken into existence when God said “Let there be…” and there was.  So when Jesus says something, when he gives us a commandment, it is not practical advice, or the latest fashion, or even religious doctrine.  It is a revelation of the very structure and coherence of the universe itself.
            Mercy, love, peace, freedom, justice, joy, healing… these are not just ways to cope with the world, they are the world.  They are the energy and principles upon which creation and life itself is built.  Jesus’ commandments are the bedrock into which we sink our foundation.  They reflect and express what is true and real.  They are literally the way of life.
            In other words, Jesus, the Word of the Creator himself, is saying that the real world is not some Darwinian horror of the survival of the fittest, a dog-eat-dog arena of pitiless brutality where only the strongest and most violent individuals survive.  That is the world concocted by human sinfulness, and then projected by log-blinded people onto nature, and utilized by the rich and powerful to justify their wealth and power.
            Jesus is saying that what the world is really about is cooperation, mutuality, community, and a coherent, integrated system in which life thrives, and where human beings, as the vanguard of that system, consciously know and love the One who created it all.

V.
            Third, he says, we have to act on his words.  The acting is the key.  If we just come and hear him we will still not have riveted ourselves to the bedrock.  We will still be subject to getting washed away by the flooding river.
            It is not enough to hear or even talk about being merciful.  We have to be merciful; we have to act mercifully.  Our lives have to be thoroughly characterized by the values and practices Jesus advocates in this sermon, and in his whole ministry.
            It’s about being an agent of Christ’s truth in the world, which is to say a witness to the God who creates and sustains everything in love.  This means we do not judge or condemn, but forgive, release, and give of what we have received to others.  It means that we become a little tear in the dense fabric of the world of delusion and violence, fear and anger, shame and hatred, and through that hole, the pure light of God shines into people’s lives. 
            Through us, people experience the truth of God’s love for the whole world, by our mercy, forgiveness, healing, acceptance, liberation, peace, and joy.  Through us, in our trust and obedience of him, people experience Jesus Christ, the living God.
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