Motes in Other People's Eyes
"Why do you look at the mote in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the mote out of your eye,' when all the time there is a beam in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the mote from your brother's eye!" Matthew 7:3-5
It is astonishing how oblivious we can be of our own faults and blemishes of character, and how clearly we can see those of other people! According to our Lord's little parable, a man can see a minute speck of that in his brother's eye, and proposes to remove it—utterly unaware that meanwhile he has a great beam in his own eye.
But is it not a kindness to a friend to offer to take the mote that dims his vision out of his eye? If you find in your friend a fault which greatly mars his character and impairs his usefulness—is it not a kindness for you to tell him of it and try to cure him of it?
Faithfulness requires that we tell our friends of their faults—but we must do it in a Christian way. We cannot think, when we discover a fault or some wrong habit in a friend, "I am sorry to see it, but it is none of my business; I have nothing to do with other people's imperfections, for I have enough of my own to look after." It is our business to seek our friend's good in all ways, and ever to help him toward a nobler, better, truer life. We have no right to allow the little speck which we detect in his character to remain, with no effort to have it removed. It is just such a little speck that, slowly rotting inward, will at length destroy all the rich fruit of his life.
If we discover a little flaw in the character of his life we have no right to say nothing about it, for, left alone, it will widen and widen until by and by it will spoil the whole life. We are our brother's keeper and have no moral right to shut our eyes to anything in his habits, tempers or dispositions which we know to be endangering his character or his career of usefulness.
What our Lord condemns, however, is the way some people perform this duty of friendship.
For one thing, he condemns uncharitable judging. There are some people who have eyes for nothing in others but faults. They can see the minutest speck of wrong or moral unbeauty, but they never see the good and lovely things. They are like certain foul birds which fly over picturesque landscapes covered with gardens of flowers and all the beauty of nature, and see nothing to admire, but which, the instant they see a bit of carrion anywhere amid the grass and flowers, swoop down upon it with hungry delight and greedily feast upon it.
These people really seem to have pleasure in discovering spots in the characters of others. Such a spirit as this utterly disqualifies anyone for speaking to a friend of his faults, or trying to cure him of them. If we truly love a person, it will sorely pain us to see wrong or unlovely things in him, and we can never exult in speaking of them.
Our Lord condemns also a self-righteous spirit in looking at the faults of others. The man who pointed out the mote in his brother's eye, did not know that there was a beam in his own eye! So we need to guard against the spirit of pride and self-righteousness when we try to help others out of their mistakes and imperfections. No doubt there are blemishes in our character too. Besides, if we have not fallen into wrong ways, as they have—we are still liable to do so, for our hearts are just like theirs. Therefore, while we should seek to help them, we should never attempt to do it in a proud, Pharisaical way—but gently, lovingly, and with meekness.
We know Paul's counsel for just such cases "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in a fault, you who are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted."
We should also learn to look at the faults of others with the eye of charity which hopes all things and covers the multitude of sins.
We do not know the secret history of the lives of others around us. We do not know what heart-wounds have produced the scars we see in other people's souls. We do not know the wrongs inflicted and endured in silence, which have caused the faults in our friend's character. We do not know the secret trials and sufferings which make life a daily torture to many with whom we are tempted to be impatient.
Longfellow says: "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm at hostility."
We should learn, then, to regard the faults of others with a feeling almost of reverence—just as we look upon the wounds which a soldier has gotten in battle; and remembering that some hidden sorrow or unknown trial may be the cause of the blemish which our sharp eyes detect!
If we knew the cares and crosses
Crowded round our neighbor's way;
If we knew the little losses,
Sorely grievous day by day.
Would we then so often chide him,
For the lack of thrift and gain,
Leaving on his heart a shadow,
Leaving on our heart a stain?
Let us reach within our bosoms
For the key to other lives,
And with love to erring natures,
Cherish good that still survives.
So that when our disrobed spirits
Soar to realms of light again,
We may say, "Dear Father, judge us
As we've judged our fellow-man."
Our Lord's washing the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper had a spiritual significance, as we learn from his own words at the time. We all need such daily washing to remove the spots of daily faults and sins. Thus we are commanded to wash one another's feet—that is, to seek the removal of one another's specks and motes.
William Taylor, in treating of this incident, quotes a quaint counsel to those who would wash the feet of others.
First, "The water must not be too hot."
Second, "Our own hands should be clean."
Third, "We must be ready to submit our own feet to the process."
Each of these counsels is important. If we are going to remove our brother's motes, we must avoid anything that will offend him or give him needless pain. It is always hard to be told, even in the most loving manner, of our faults; but if it is done in a harsh, rude, cold way, it is far harder. We should take care, indeed, that your water be not too hot to scald our friend; yes, and not too cold to freeze him!