Pulling out the plank

During his last year in office Prime Minister Winston Churchill was attending an official ceremony. Several rows behind him two gentlemen began whispering. "That's Winston Churchill......They say he is getting senile..........They say he should step aside and leave the running of the country to more dynamic and capable men." When the ceremony was over, Churchill turned to the men and said, "Gentlemen, they also say he is deaf!" 

Each one of us is the product of countless generations of genes that combine together to make us the individuals we are. Our characters are affected by our environment, our upbringing and the life-experiences we have been exposed to. However as the Duke of Wellington said, ‘just because a man is born in a barn it doesn’t make him a horse’.

Genetics, upbringing, experiences and influences may all contribute to how we are, but a Christian is a continual work in progress. We are all the recipients of God’s grace which, if we are open to it, could be the greatest influence on our lives

If we are to develop and grow as Christians, we have to want to know ourselves and to take our Lord and Master Jesus Christ as the model to aspire to.  

Jesus often provides us with practical advice. He taught the people with illustrations taken from what they could observe around them, from fishing, farming, housekeeping, and family life. In today's gospel (Luke 6.39-45) he takes an image from the carpenter’s workshop of his adoptive father, Joseph. Furthermore he uses the image for comedic effect, to make his teaching more memorable, how can you try to take a speck of sawdust out of your own eye when there is a great big plank of wood stuck in your own?

Jesus tells us that before we find fault and criticize others we should first take a look at ourselves. The verb criticise is derived from the Greek for 'one who judges'. And when we criticise others we are setting ourselves up in judgement against them; we are judging and passing sentence. Jesus warns us against this because if we put ourselves in that position, we must be prepared to be judged ourselves. We run the risk of being hypocrites. And as is said, people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

The warning of Jesus against being over-critical helps us because it affects our whole being; our behaviour affects our character. Think how behaviour can affect our appearance: the sign of prolonged anxiety can be seen etched into the ridges of a forehead; severe lack of sleep can produce bags under the eyes; and a failure to smile may lead to a downturned mouth. Joan Collins once said that women over 50 get the face they deserve, but that can equally well apply to men.

If behaviour can affect the outside of a person, just think what it can to do to the inside. Being constantly critical, undermining other people, finding fault is not good for the soul. And if left unconfessed these sins can become the new normal; we say, that is just how I am. We then become like the bad tree producing rotten fruit. We can run the risk of becoming embittered and isolated.  In contrast as St Paul told the Ephesians we should speak in such a way that is helpful in building up and encouraging others, and will benefit those who listen.

Lent is the most excellent time for us to work on our sins that grieve the Holy Spirit.  As well as the giving up of cake or chocolate we should examine what are the sins that we regularly fall into that can have a negative affect our character. What lets us down the most? What disappoints us most about ourselves? What is the one thing we do that is most unlike Jesus? To give up moaning or being over-critical, might seem harder to achieve than giving up kitkats, but is potentially more beneficial to ourselves and to others. It should be as easy to shut our mouths and not let the harsh words out as to shut our mouths and not let the chocolate in. 

Lent is the time for us to draw close to the Master and to learn from him, to build up the store of goodness in our hearts. Not all criticism is bad, some can be constructive, depending on the motivation behind it and we do well to be humble enough to learn from it.   As Christians, we can expect people to criticize us, but we should try to live in such a way that nobody would believe them.