Re:Lent — Rethink

There is a sentiment in our culture that I find pretty fascinating, and it’s wrapped up in a brief little expression: “You do you.” (Or maybe, “Just do you.”) On one hand, I get it. We want to give people the space they need to live the way they need to live. And that personal freedom is a hallmark of American life. But “You do you” seems too general, too all-inclusive. It doesn’t leave room for wise discernment. And the irony is that most people who advocate for a “You do you” society can actually have some pretty strong opinions about just what “you do.”
Take a look at this recent Diet Coke ad for an example of “Just do you.”

I’m not the only person who thinks that there needs to be room for wise discernment. This parody of the Diet Coke ad suggests that there probably should be limits on our personal freedoms:

Both the ad and its parody are trying to navigate the question of when we should or shouldn’t care about or comment on other people’s lives. In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus addresses this balance with one of his best metaphors: the ol’ plank-in-the-eye. People love to quote the first three words of this passage: “Do not judge.” And they’re right to quote it. There are times when it is simply wrong to pass judgment on someone. And it is probably always wrong to presume to pass ultimate judgment on someone. But did Jesus mean “Just do you, whatever that is”?

Whenever I’ve heard people cite Jesus’ command, “Do not judge,” I have never heard them follow up with his command at the end of the passage, in verse 5: “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 [or sister’s] eye.” The truth is that while we are forbidden to do what only God can do and “judge” someone, we are also forbidden to notice a speck in someone’s eye and ignore it like it doesn’t matter. To be hyper-aware of others’ sins or to ignore them are both off track. Jesus is calling us to repent of these easy paths and instead exercise “sound judgment” (Prov. 3:21). There are times when it is more loving to address the smudge on someone’s face. But the point is in how we should do it.

If we want to do good for someone, to “remove their speck,” we will be more Christ-like when we begin with the grateful attitude of a recipient of mercy. That is, when we remember that the source of our goodness is God. And because of God’s goodness in Christ, we are given mercy, sinners though we are. To identify ourselves this way is not “negative” or “shaming.” It’s just true. Acknowledging it can enable us to humbly “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and earn a hearing with our sisters or brothers, because they know that while they may have a speck, we have had a plank in ours. So there’s no “judgment.” But there is help. And hope.

For reflection:
– Can you think of ways a “just do you” sentiment could be bad for a person, or even for a community?
– Can you think of any examples from world news in which someone is casting judgment without dealing with the plank in their eye? What is the “speck” they seem to be noticing? What is the “plank” they’re ignoring?
– Why do you think Jesus uses the comparison of “speck” and “plank?”
– Take a look at all of Matthew chapters 5 through 7 — in what other practices does Jesus accuse people of hypocrisy?
– Do you have a plank in your eye that you have been ignoring? What can you do to address it?

Many blessings,