It’s funny the things we remember, the things we hang on to. All the little indiscretions that others have perpetrated against us from the distant past. I remember well the faces of those who have ridiculed me, made fun of me, made me feel small. However, I’m not talking about yesterday or last year or even within the last decade. I’m referring to things that were said and done way back in elementary school and junior high—some twenty-five or thirty years ago!
I remember a kid named Colby. He and I met the summer before I started high school. I thought we were friends, but then when school started everything changed. You see, coincidentally, I also had a cousin named Colby who went to the same school, and one day, my cousin and I were eating lunch together when all of a sudden, the other Colby came up and started harassing my cousin for having the same name. It was embarrassing and pissed me off. I tried to be the hero. I stood up for my cousin. I told this jerk (in what I’m sure was a respectful tone) that he could take a hike. And, as you can probably guess, I instantly made an enemy that day.
Colby and I would remain enemies for the rest of our freshman year. Every time he saw me in the hallway, he would make a big deal about it and threaten to fight me. Now, I was pretty shy kid from a small Lutheran school. This was my first experience in a larger public school and so it was all more than a little intimidating. I’m pretty sure I hated Colby andI did everything I could to avoid him. All I could think was this jerk is messed up. And, sadly, these memories are pretty much the only memories I have of my freshman year in high school. Then something happened. Shortly before the year was over, Colby was killed in a car accident. He had apparently been riding around with some older friends and because he was unbuckled, he was thrown out of the vehicle and died instantly. I hate to admit it, but…
I was so relieved when I heard the news that Colby had died.
Now, please don’t judge me. While, I’d like to think that today, as a pastor, I’d never feel that way about the death of anyone, in reality, you and I know full well that human nature always desires the death of our enemy. Cain killed Able for less than Colby did to me. This is what makes so many of the things Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount so hard for us to understand. He says, “Love your enemies and pray for them.” He compares anger to murder and says that anyone who hates his brother is guilty of murder! Our sinful human nature doesn’t know how to process such things.
But now, some 25 years later, I can’t help but wonder if loving Colby and praying for him would have made a difference. Probably. And now that I think about it, his family life was pretty messed up. I’m sure Colby could have used a Christian friend who was willing to go that extra mile Jesus talks about in Matthew 5:40. Who knows? Maybe on that day he died, Colby would have been hanging out with me instead of joy riding with the wrong crowd.
All these years later, what does surprise me, is that of all the things I should remember about my freshman year of high school, my bad experiences with Colby are the only memories that stand out in my mind. Why is that? Why does my brain hang on to the relatively few encounters I had with a bully rather than all the other exciting things that I’m sure happened that year? Furthermore, the more I think about it, what Colby did to me probably wasn’t as awful as I recall. He never hit me. He never harmed me. But man, if I don’t remember it differently. It’s funny how our memories tend to get embellished as time goes on.
How strange that we can recall random people’s specks like they were yesterday! I guess specks are easier, because they aren’t ours. They are always someone else’s, but we sure do treat them like logs, don’t we? We can go on and on about their sins. I’m telling you I’ve got “specks” on lots of people. I’m sure you do, too.
Today, Jesus tells us that we should “judge not, that you be not judged.” He reminds us that before we check out the speck in another’s eye, we should first take note of the log that is in our own eye. And here I am reminiscing about what someone else did 25 years ago. What about all the mean and nasty things I’ve said and done towards others in the quarter-of-a-century since?
I know “logs” are supposed to be giant pieces of wood, but isn’t there some irony in its other definition: “an official record of events.” If I’m honest, my logs are–no doubt about it–a long litany of indiscretions, as the saying goes, “as long as my arm,” and probably quite a bit longer; yet, oddly enough, as much as I can pinpoint all the things that an enemy from 25 years ago said against me, I can’t remember a tenth of what I’ve done to hurt others.
But I’m sure someone could.
That’s how it is in this sinful world. For as much as I can accuse Colby of being a jerk, I’m sure there are people out there that might say the same of me and how I have behaved. The bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we only deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Jesus says, “For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).
What about what God remembers? What about the way God judges? What about the way God measures?
That phrase, “God knows our hearts” shouldn’t be a comforting saying at all. Sure, we want it to mean, “God knows we meant well” but what God really knows is, “we could have been, and will probably be, even worse.” Lord, have mercy!
Practically speaking, Jesus’ words today remind us to be very careful before we approach anyone about some personal fault or indiscretion. Technically, Jesus uses the word “brother.” Jesus is talking about other Christians. He wants us to be very careful about how we handle things so that Christians don’t drive wedges in the unity of the church. Before we open our mouths and ready our fingers to point out a speck, we should take a little time to pray the 5th petition of the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.