Dogs, Pigs, and Pearls [Specks & Planks]
Specks & Planks: Dogs, Pigs, and Pearls
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • July 31, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th, we are honored that you are here today in our community.
Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search, because you were invited, or because you already knew the way, we are grateful for you and for the gift of God that you bring with you into this space. Our simple prayer for you is that you would experience welcome, acceptance, peace, and space to have an encounter with the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!
Last week, I launch our mini-sermon series, Specks and Planks in Matthew 7:1-6:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye. 6“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:1-6)
This passage in Matthew is found in the Sermon on the Mount, a collection of teachings and prescriptions from Jesus on how we should live. In Matthew 7, Jesus opens by encouraging us to trust others to God’s care and provision by not judging each other.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)
It’s as if he is saying, “Don’t judge the ‘person,’ where they are good or bad, or whether they are sinning or not.” There are so many things at work in our lives that it’s impossible for us know to how someone else’s clearly bad actions could be motived by what’s going on in their life. Just try to imagine how someone’s upbringing, experiences, and past traumas shape and inform their actions and behavior. You really can’t, this is why Jesus says don’t judge the ‘person.’
Planks & Specks
To emphasis his point, he continues:
“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, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a 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.” Matthew 7:3-5
This metaphor of specks and planks and judgment is best understood as a commentary about how we relate to each other with respect to our flaws, imperfections, failures, brokenness, and sins. Jesus challenges us, when he says, “Why do you look at someone else’s sin, and pay no attention to your own?” He calls us a hypocrite!
The term is hypocrite is strong, especially sense no one wants to think of themselves as a hypocrite, so we just assume that Jesus isn’t speaking to us, we assume that he is talking to someone else. But I think he’s right, we act like hypocrites. We want mercy for ourselves and we want judgement for others. It’s totally okay to want mercy for yourself–that makes sense, and is natural–Jesus is just inviting you to consider wanting mercy for your neighbor too.
Can’t do it?
Then “you’re a hypocrite,” Jesus says.
Jesus wants us to be real. He wants us to get good at seeing our failures, which requires humility, an acknowledgement of the way we hurt others, and the willing to take responsibility for actions and the problems they may cause. Ultimately, we have to believe that we are loved and accepted as we are.
The plank and the speck of sawdust are almost cartoonish, an exaggerated image that’s comical. But Jesus is using them to make a lasting impression on us, because it really matters to him. It matters to him because he knows that it will help us.
If we want to partner with him to see ourselves, our loved ones, and our world transformed, it starts with us understanding that our obligation is to deal first with our own stuff before we ever venture into God’s domain by judging each other.
It’s a matter of prioritization.
When it comes to sin, we are only responsible for our own sin.
Not for the sins of others.
Think of it this way, Jesus invites us to attend to our responsibility for ourselves, and as you succeed, then you just might be in a place to come alongside others as they attend to that for which they are responsible.
This starts with understanding the difference between being responsible to someone vs being responsible for someone.
This, in fact, is the pattern Jesus sets for us, and the pattern he himself followed as he walked in our skin. Jesus is responsible for himself – for doing what his Father has sent him to do – and responsible to each of his estranged brothers and sisters, his Father’s image-bearing kids, to seek them and extend and express love to them.
Jesus lives out a basic truth about our responsibilities. I am only responsible for one person in the universe, and that person is myself. I am only responsible for myself because I am the only one I have any true control over (and truth be told, that control seems tenuous at best, most of the time!).
I am responsible for my heart towards God, my heart towards others.
I am responsible for the condition of my soul, for what I feed it and how I care for it.
I am responsible for how I direct and use and nourish my mind.
I am responsible my strength, for how I care for it, how I steward it, what I train and prepare it to do.
We often misunderstand Jesus and assume that he is inviting us to take responsibility for others, but he isn’t. We believe that I mandate is take responsibility for another, but we were never given the responsibility for another. We may be responsible to care for, to watch out for, to teach, to lead, to love, never to take responsibility for. Each of us is responsibility for our choices or actions. We can only enter someone’s live as a helper, and even then, only by invitation.
Jesus only calls us to be responsible for ourselves and responsible to each other.
Don’t get it twisted.
I am responsible to God.
To love him. To serve him. To obey him.
In fact, it’s because of my responsibilities toward God that I am responsible to be responsible for myself. Because my life, my very self, is a gift that God has given me to steward.
In the same vein, my responsibility towards God leads me into responsibilities towards others. If I love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and all my strength, I will also find myself loving my neighbor as myself.
I am responsible to my partner. To love her. To be in a posture of service towards her. To be ready to lay down my life for her in whatever way the Lord may direct me.
This is same responsibility that I have to my kids, to the church, and every other image bearer, friend or enemy.
I also have responsibilities towards all of creation as well, responsibilities to all God’s creatures, great and small, and to the earth itself that is God’s gift to us and an expression of his glory.
You may be listening realizing that this sorta makes sense, a “No, duh” kind of moment. But consider how often we substitute our responsibility for ourselves and to others with a sense of responsibility for others.
The parent who is over-responsible for his children. The partner who is over-responsible for his or her partner. The coach who is over-responsible for his or her players. The employer who is over-responsible for his or her employees.
Being responsible for others instead of oneself can create destructive stress. Because we cannot control others’ responses. We can’t even predict their responses with a high degree of accuracy. And, because it will inevitably create conflict (who is responsible for them, us or them?) We encourage by Jesus to avoid it at all costs.
Making yourself responsible for someone who is not you is also a violation of the God-given self. A violation of your own self and a violation of their self. It destroys life-giving boundaries. You lose your identity in the identity of others, and others without well-differentiated senses of self will lose their identities as you over-function in their lives.
God made you, you.
He made her, her.
He made him, him.
That was his call, and it’s not ours to override. Every unauthorized judgment is a form of over-responsibility.
Love, on the other hand, allows one to embrace others as one would embrace oneself, without violating either self. Love recognizes one’s self as made to be in communion with other selves, while still being fully one’s unique self. This is the truth of the trinity.
And being responsible for others will cause us to fail in our primary responsibility to them and to God, which is to love them.
Because we will inevitably get frustrated.
And then manipulative.
And soon enough we will stand above them as we stand above ourselves, from a place of authority instead of service and love.
Let me push in:
Being responsible to someone is healthy. It’s means that we are responsible
to love them,
to encourage them,
to bless them,
to pray for them,
to serve them.
However, being responsible for someone is unhealthy. In this case, we mistakenly take responsibility
for their well-being,
for their finances,
for their happiness,
for their success or failure,
for their spiritual growth,
for the strength of their relationships.
Pigs, Dogs, and Pearls
From planks and specks, Jesus moves onto pigs, dogs, and pearls:
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:6)
“Don't throw your pearls to pigs,” Jesus says. Now, was this a thing in the ancient world? Pearl farms feeding pigs their pearls? Why did Jesus make this reference? This is the brilliance of Jesus. Jesus recognizes something about us, our reluctance to surrender, our reluctance to enter into the good life. So, he closes this section with a shocking image, a farmer feeding his pigs with pearls. An image that’s so ridiculous, it might just grab our attention.
A pearl is a good thing. A pig is unable to appreciate the value of a pearl. Maybe, the pig asks, what am I do with this? When we do not trust God with others, we try to control and manipulate them. Sometimes we try to control and get them to do what we want them to do with negative things: judging, condemning, shaming, disapproving, ostracizing, and pushing them to the edge.
Sometimes, we try to control others with good things. I’m pushing in here for a moment. Let’s say that you attended a private residential liberal arts college, and let’s say that you think it’s the bees-knees, so you offer to pay for college if your child attends a similar school, and here’s kicker, you tell them that they are on their own if they attend a a public university. If our desire to have our kids educated, why not let them decide?
Control whether negative or positive, Jesus says cannot be digested. Full stop.
Next time someone lets you down, try to shift your focus, instead of noticing the “speck” of their failure in their responsibility to you, consider where you find yourself? How’s your plank? Are you angry, disappointed, bitter? Do you need to forgive, serve, or love? If you are willing take a moment and check yourself. An exercise that might help is to write down your responsibilities for yourself that the failure of the other person has created for you. Work through those. When you are satisfied that your slate is clean, then you can consider focusing on the speck and see how you might serve them in helping them get better at handling their responsibilities towards you and others.