At Home in Our Own Skin
by Tim Mooney
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
These two sayings turn the table on our assumptions; they ask us to see, and live out of, a different perspective.
First, in Matthew we see Jesus focus not on the act of murder, but on the attitude, the judgment, the feelings that can lead to the act of murder. He points to three things. First he lifts up anger. Then points to “Raca,” a word we cannot translate accurately but is a contemptible, derogatory remark about someone else. His final example is when we call someone a “fool.” By using these three things – anger, “Raca,” “You fool!” – Jesus is pointing to all the feelings that might lead us to commit the act of murder: resentment, bitterness, a sense of entitlement, a sense of putting someone in their place, what have you.
There is a progression here at play. For example, let’s say Bob murdered Greg in retaliation because Greg was accused of murdering Bob’s brother. This is known as “an eye for an eye.” But in the ancient world retribution was more often 10 eyes for an eye. If you murdered my brother I will murder ten of your family members. So, strange as it seems, an eye for an eye was a move in the right direction. Jesus is now asking for us to be responsible for – held accountable for – our feelings, dispositions, attitudes, because these are the things that lead to an eye for an eye, and previously, led to 10 eyes for an eye.
Then Jesus presses this progression a bit further. No, that’s not accurate. He presses it to the limit! When you are offering a gift at the altar, a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, if you remember that someone has something against you, leave your gift at the altar, and be reconciled to this person who has something against you! Then, offer your gift! What??! Someone has something against me, and you’re asking me to initiate the reconciliation? What?!
Hold that thought.
Now we look at what Jesus says in Luke. When we see something in someone, a speck or a splinter in their eye, this seeing is often accompanied by judgment. There are some negative emotions we feel toward this person. But Jesus invites us to first look at what’s in our own eye. By saying splinter and log, the same substance, Jesus indicates that “what” we see in another is actually the “what” that is a big issue for us. It’s in our eye. We’re asked to attend to what’s in our eye first. Whatever this issue is, it is alive for us and we are responsible for taking it out, or getting some help to have it taken out. Then, and only then, might we be of true service to another.
What is one of the most common attributes of human beings? We blame others. It’s their fault, it’s their responsibility, they must take the initiative. Others – Mom, Dad, brother, sister, husband, wife, spouse, partner, friend, colleague, boss, underling – must make the first move, not us.
Jesus flips this upside down. What we don’t like in others, is a mirror for us to see what we are like. If someone has something against us we are invited to make the first move toward reconciliation. We are asked to move toward more love, no matter what. Jesus says it so simply. Do unto others what you would have them do to you.
When we harbor judgments, assumptions, resentments, it shows how little room there is in us, for love.
Pause. Like a commercial for some new drug that promises to clear up your eczema and psoriasis, after all the good news there is a list of side-effects and cautions you must take into account. Same here. Say a father abused you when you were young, causing PTSD. Is it your responsibility to reconcile?? No. Not until you are healed enough, not until the log is taken out of your own eye.
What is it like to have a log in our own eye? Uncomfortable, to say the least. Jesus didn’t offer this saying because he thought it was interesting, counter-cultural, or would get him attention. He offered it because he saw so many people walking around with logs in their eyes. When we harbor judgments, assumptions, resentments, it shows how little room there is in us, for love.
And what is it like to not be reconciled with those who have something against us? Jesus says we might be brought to court, arrested, put in prison. What I think he means is that our judgments, resentments, bitterness, wall us in. This is an apt metaphor for what our conflicts do to us – they put us in our own prison.
When logs are everywhere, when we expect others to change and not us, when we are unwilling to move toward appropriate reconciliation, we are not at home in our own skin, because there is no room for us, there is no room for others. There are logs everywhere! We are too blocked and full of our own judgments, resentments, bitterness.
I struggled whether I was going to share this story with you. It’s a personal story, but it’s also petty on my part. It’s not a traumatic or truly harmful story, but it is illustrative.
Thirteen years ago I painted a painting for my Dad. My Dad served in World War 2. He was a radio mechanic of B-24 Liberators. He never flew in on of those planes, but he loved working on those planes. My father was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, he was starting to slow down, and we could see that the end was not too far away. And so I painted this B-24 flying right at you, over the ocean with the sun fading, the light shining over the water, with the shadow of the plane over the ocean, and one engine was not working. So the plane was limping home, and I titled the painting, “Coming Home.” I gave it to my Dad, he loved it, and it went up on the wall. But Mom didn’t love it. She liked it because it was for Dad, it captured the situation he faced, but it didn’t match her colors in the house. So she really didn’t like it that much.
Ten years ago Dad died, and it wasn’t long before the painting was in the closet, pushed to the back. So I went home to visit my Mom four weeks ago, and I completely forgot about the painting. While I was there I get this random message on Face Book from a guy I do not know, and he said, “Hey, did you paint a painting of this sea plane going over the ocean with the shadow of the plane on the water? Because I bought it for $7 from Goodwill.”
“What?!” I thought. I went through this panic because maybe Mom, who was becoming a bit more forgetful and maybe she finally didn’t like it enough that she got rid of it. Or maybe my brother, would had been living at Mom’s because he was having trouble finding work, and maybe he took and sold it! I was mad. I was mad!! I mean, I painted this for my Dad, so at least you could call me and say, “Hey Tim, do you want this? Because if not, we’re going to sell it.” I was mad!!
And then I sent a message to this guy with a picture of the painting, and I asked him, “Is this it?” and he said, “Yes. That’s it.” And then he added, “But if you want it, it’s all yours.” And he lived in Merced, only seven miles from my Mom’s! It’s unbelievable story! So I waited a couple of days to work through my anger and to see if I wanted the painting back. I was mad at brother if he sold it to get some money. And then I said, “You know what, I do want that painting,” and I sent a message to the guy and I went to pick it up. We had a nice talk, and he said, “When I saw this painting in the Goodwill, when I saw that one engine out, and it’s trying to come home, I said to myself, ‘Man, that’s how all of us feel in Covid-19, and all the turmoil going on in our world. All of us are just barely hanging on trying to get home.’ I just had to have it. It’s a beautiful painting, man, but here, it’s yours.”
And now I’m thinking I’m going go home and put this painting in my living room and my brother is going to see it and I’m gonna go (facial expression that indicates I know he sold it!), “Recognize anything?”
But then it dawned on me, thank God. It’s a miracle that the painting came back to me. And isn’t that all that really matters? I got this painting that I made for my Dad. Why do I need to put that between my brother and I? I don’t. So the painting is on the mantel, but I’ve not said a thing. And when I tell my brother the story, I’m just going to tell him I got it back. I don’t care how it went away. If he would have made $15,000 on it I might have been really upset! The title of the painting, “Coming Home,” was intended for my Dad, but now it was intended for me, for all of us, to come home and be at home in our own skin.
Rumi, a 13th Century Sufi mystic and poet, wrote, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against love.” It seems counter-intuitive, but to build community, we are invited to tear down what we’ve built inside ourselves against community, against love. Love is here. But we build barriers against it, with all that wood in our eyes. So a couple questions. What needs to come down, in order for you and me to not live in a prison of our own making? What needs to come down in order for you and me to come home, to be at home in our skin?
Now we can hear this invitation, as if it is one more thing we have to do first in order to receive God’s love. But Jesus turned this idea upside down, too. We are already, and always, loved by God. As it says in I John, “In this is love, not that we first loved God but that God loved us and sent his Son…beloved, since God loves us so much, we are able to love ourselves, love one another.” Amen.