Let It Begin With Me
There is a wonderful, uncomfortable little proverb that comes to us from the family and friends of alcoholics which goes like this: “Let it begin with me.” It’s wonderful, because it reminds me to focus attention were it belongs, namely, me – myself, my attitude, my actions. I don’t need to expend my mental and emotional energy worrying about what others are doing or not doing. But it’s uncomfortable, because it reminds me to focus my attention where it belongs, namely, you guessed it, me – myself, my attitude, my actions. I would much rather, as tiring as it is, expend my energy worrying about what others are doing or not doing, for the obvious reason that any change that should take place (so my thinking goes) is outside of me.
Jesus was well aware of this fallen, sinfully self-centered attitude, as seen in his ironic parable of the log and the speck in Matthew 7:1-5. Søren Kierkegaard had this to say about Jesus’ parable:
How rigorous is this Christian like-for-like! The world’s like-for-like is: see to it that in the long run you do to others what others have done to you. But the Christian like-for-like is: as you do to others, God does to you in the very same mode. Christianly understood, what others do to you should not concern you. You should concern yourself with what you do to others and with the way you receive what others do to you. The direction is inwards; essentially you have only to do with yourself before God. To love human beings is to love God and to love God is to love human beings. What you do to others you do to God, and therefore what you do to others God does to you.Provocations: Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard. Complied and Edited by Charles E. Moore. Farmington, PA: The Bruderhof Foundation, Inc., 2002.
“The direction is inwards.” Yes, Kierkegaard rightly emphasizes Jesus’ point: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye” (Matthew 7:5a). But there is still an outward direction. It is not an either/or matter of inward or outward. It is a question of order and priority. Order: “First this.” And priority: “First this much larger, and therefore more dangerous obstruction.” The outward direction only then comes into focus after the inward direction: “then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5b).
This is the principle that is captured in the proverb “Let it begin with me.” When there is a problem in my family or in one of my relationships, let it begin with me. Let me first take the log out of my own eye. When there is a problem in my workplace, let it begin with me. Let me first attend to ways in which I contribute to, comply with, or enable the problem. When there is a problem in my church, let it begin with me. Let me first confess my own sins, my own pride, my own selfishness and preferential opinions.
And then, perhaps I will be able to “see clearly to take the speck out of my brother’s eye.” But if we take Jesus’ words in their original context, delivered to the early church as represented in his disciples, perhaps the goal is that we wouldn’t even need to put others on the operating table, if we all would take the initiative and place our own eyes in the surgeon’s capable hands first.