The famed astronomer Percival Lowell spent many years studying and surveying the surface of Mars. Through this scientific pursuit he believed he saw canals of water on Mars and set about mapping them carefully. By the time Lowell published his findings, he was so eminent in his field that no one dared to question or confirm the theory. Today, however, we know better. Over the years Lowell had developed a rare eye disease, now called Lowell's syndrome. What this great scientist was actually mapping were not canals of water on Mars but the bulging blood vessels of his own eyes!
As this story would remind us, seeing straight and having a clear perspective on things is a critical matter. Impaired vision and skewed perception can be a real handicap in life. Jesus reminded us in Matthew's gospel that the eye is the lamp of the body, and if the eye is good the whole body will be filled with light (Matt. 6:22-23). In other words, Christ was underscoring the fact that seeing things with moral clarity and from God's perspective is an important key to a healthy and holy life. Further on in Matthew's gospel, Jesus highlights the critical nature of seeing straight and perceiving things correctly when it comes to judging others (Matt. 7:1-5). Our evaluation of others can, according to our Lord, involve an undue harshness fueled by a stinking self-righteous hypocrisy. Blind to our own faults, we nevertheless have 20/20 vision regarding the shortcomings of others, and are quick to point them out. It must be said that this passage does not censor judgments per se. The text implicitly holds out the possibility of removing the speck from the brother's eye, and the surrounding context does not forbid all types of judging (Matt. 7:16-17). But what the passage does condemn, is the hypocrisy of being harder on others than on one's self, and failing to take time to examine our own imperfect lives, and bring some humility to the conversation and confrontations we are so willing to have with others about their sins or shortcomings (Gal. 6:1-5). Sin has a way of deceiving us, and distorting our perceptions. When Nathan, the prophet, confronted King David about a rich man who had stolen a poor man's lamb, David was livid and angry (2 Sam. 12:5-6). Then Nathan said, "You are the man" (2 Sam. 12:7). Amazingly, David could see how wrong it was to rob a man of his lamb, but was blind to the greater sin of stealing a man's wife and then committing murder to cover it up. We are dab hands at making ourselves look good by making others look bad.
Judge we can and must, but we must judge humbly, not proudly; cautiously, not rashly; factually, not presumptuously; and we must judge actions, not motives; biblical issues, not preferences. How quickly we see sin in others, and how slowly we see sin in ourselves. May God help us to see straight when we are all bent out of shape!