09 December 2009

On Specks and Logs and Bearing Burdens

Coincidentally, I woke up this morning with a speck in my own eye. Don't know if it got in there from my pillow, or if it were an eyelash, or what, but it woke me up far earlier than I needed to be awake. Irritating as all get out, and utterly distracting. I couldn't help but think about the Words of our Lord concerning specks in my neighbor's eye and logs in my own, and it struck me as ironic that a tiny speck should so completely take over my life, whereas I live content with logs in my eyes on a daily basis, often oblivious to their existence. If the speck in my neighbor's eye causes him the agony and frustration that such a speck in my own eye causes, well, I ought to be led more to sympathy and compassionate care than to surgical prep. The log in my eye may prevent me from seeing the forest for the trees, but the speck in my eye makes it impossible even to see my neighbor clearly, to say nothing of trying to perform surgery on him. Thankfully, Christ removes both the specks and the logs by the way of His forgiveness; and it is by forgiveness that we likewise remove any specks that may be festering in our neighbor's eye. It is through the lens of Christ's forgiveness that we see our neighbor clearly and rightly; not as though through rose-colored glasses, but as through the eyes of God.

Anyway, the speck in my eye seemed an ironic coincidence when I got to church and discovered the next portion of Dr. Luther's Lectures on Galatians, which I have been methodically sharing with the folks at Emmaus for the past couple of years. He is brilliant and great as always in the section at hand for this week, beginning with a reference to the passage concerning specks vs. logs in the eye. What Dr. Luther has to say is exactly right, addressing one of the most important and most difficult aspects of the Christian life. Here is how he puts it:

"If those who are so ready to judge and condemn others took an accurate look at their own sins, they would discover that the sins of those who have fallen are ‘specks’ and that their own are huge ‘logs’ (Matt. 7:3).

"‘Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall’ (1 Cor. 10:12). If David — such a holy man, filled with faith and with the Spirit of God, one who had received such outstanding promises and who had performed such great things for the Lord — fell so disgracefully and, though well along in years, was seized by youthful passion after the many different trials with which God had disciplined him, what right do we have to presume about our own constancy? By means of such examples God discloses our own weakness to us, so that we do not become puffed up but are properly fearful; He also discloses His judgment, namely, that there is nothing more intolerable to Him than pride, whether toward Him or toward the brethren.

"It is not in vain, therefore, that Paul says: ‘Look to yourself, lest you, too, be tempted’ (Galatians 6:1). Those who have undergone temptations know how necessary this commandment is. But those who have not been tried by them, do not understand Paul, and thus they are not moved by any mercy toward the fallen; this was evident in the papacy, where nothing but tyranny and cruelty prevailed.

"‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2). A very considerate commandment, to which Paul adds great praise as a kind of exclamation. The Law of Christ is the law of love. After redeeming and regenerating us and constituting us as His Church, Christ did not give us any new law except the law of mutual love: ‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you’ (John 13:34); and again: ‘By this all men will know that you are My disciples’ (John 13:35).

To love does not mean, as the sophists imagine, to wish someone well, but to bear someone else’s burdens, that is, to bear what is burdensome to you and what you would rather not bear. Therefore a Christian must have broad shoulders and husky bones to carry the flesh, that is, the weakness, of the brethren; for Paul says that they have burdens and troubles.

"Love is sweet, kind, and patient — not in receiving but in performing; for it is obliged to overlook many things and to bear with them. In the church faithful pastors see many errors and sins which they are obliged to bear. In the state the obedience of subjects never lives up to the laws of the magistrate; therefore if he does not know how to conceal things, the magistrate will not be fit to rule the commonwealth. In the family many things happen that displease the householder. But if we are able to bear and overlook our own faults and sins, which we commit in such great numbers very day, let us bear those of others as well, in accordance with the statements: ‘Bear one another’s burdens’ (Gal. 6:2), and ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18)" (Lectures on Galatians, Luther’s Works, Volume 27, CPH 1963).

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