Can the Blind Lead the Blind?

Ordinary 8C

Luke 6: 39 45


This reading brings to a close the rather long discourse often referred to as "The Sermon on the Plain". It was part of our Lord's ministry in Galilee, which our lectionary (reading schedule) now leaves until after the celebration of Pentecost.

Some Notes on Our Text

Verse 39

"He also told them this parable". This clause marks the beginning of a new section and is only loosely connected with what went before.

Note how Jesus makes his points by humorous exaggeration.

"Can the blind lead the blind?"

You cannot teach what you do not understand. Clearly therefore Jesus is referring to the need for his disciples to seek inner seeing (in-sight).

This takes time and energy. Thus we have to commit ourselves to a form of regular discipline. These few verses encapsulate some of the quintessence of Jewish spirituality. This is Rabbi to disciple. If we do not dwell on what he teaches, ponder it and try to model it, we should not kid ourselves that we are his disciples, nor have the cheek to label ourselves, giving the impression that we are.

Verse 40

The phrase "fully trained" has a very specific meaning. The Greek word chosen to record our Lord's teaching means:

  • fully instructed/informed,
  • united with God,
  • purified from disordered passions/temper.

But this must be accompanied by a certain humility as the next two verses explain.

Verses 41 and 42

Every apostle and disciple must continually exercise self-examination lest they be blind to their own faults. And there is a worse danger! They would then be unable to recognise the goodness in others!

  • The reference to "plank" is obvious. It is something impossible miss!

So Jesus says, "How can you pretend not to see the plank in your own eyes, yet think you can find, without any great effort a tiny speck in someone else's eye!"

i.e. How can you be so lacking in real sight that you forget your own failures and mistakes but notice those of others so easily? 

  • If you do so, you are a "hypocrite"

Note: A hypocrite deliberately pretends to be what he is not. Such people use religion to deceive.

Jesus is referring to people pitifully unaware of their condition: deceived by pride and pleased with their religious performances. These words are for his listeners and readers! (Not others we so readily label as "hypocrites".) This is the pit Jesus warns that every disciple must consciously avoid falling into.

So Beware:

The disciple who is spiritually blind:

  • who does not examine his/her own conscience,
  • who is more concerned with changing others, than starting with self,
  • who does not see the need to seek constantly a deeper understanding of the Master's teaching through disciplined study, meditation and prayer:

such a person:

  • cannot lead
  • cannot teach
  • cannot heal
on behalf of the Lord.

But Jesus does not leave his listeners there. He goes on to show what is needed to be truly fruitful in his service.

Verses 43 45

These well known verses show how our Lord aligns the deepest spiritual realities with the most obvious truths in the natural order: you can't give what you haven't got! He implies, "If you want to be my disciples, you will need to belong to a body of people who will together undergo constant formation, correction, pruning and re-direction. And let it be noted, you will need to distance yourself from what will compromise your on-going commitment to this ideal I have chosen you for this, but you must make the choice to apply yourself daily".


To sum up:

St Luke clusters a number of Jesus' sayings.

First, about spiritual insight: 

  • The disciple must learn before he can teach anything worthwhile.
  • To learn, they must follow the example of Jesus.

Secondly, Good conduct can only come from a good heart.

Put together: "Jesus says only those whose heart is richly stored with good:

  • will bring forth good teaching,
  • lead effectively,
  • heal abundantly,
as my disciples, my successors."

As in our hearts, so in our speech and our actions if we are to truly help our fellow human beings.

We close with a short reading from Dr Ryle (A D 1830) whose scholarship will help underpin our meditation: 

Let it be a settled principle in our religion that when a man brings forth no fruits of the Spirit he has not the Holy Ghost within him. Let us resist as a deadly error the common idea that all baptised people are born again, and that all members of the Church, as a matter of course, have the Holy Ghost. One simple question must be our rule. What fruit does a man bring forth?

Does he repent? Does he believe with the heart on Jesus? Does he live a holy life? Does he overcome the world? Habits like these are what Scripture calls "fruit." When these "fruits" are wanting it is profane to talk of a man having the Spirit of God within him.

Let it be settled principle again in our religion, that when a man's general conversation is ungodly his heart is graceless and unconverted. Let us not give way to the vulgar notion that no one can know anything of the state of another's heart, and that although men are living wickedly they have got good hearts at the bottom. Such notions are flatly contradictory to our Lord's teaching. Is the general tone of a man's communication carnal, worldly, irreligious, godless, or profane? Then let us understand that this is the state of his heart. When a man's tongue is generally wrong, it is absurd, no less than unscriptural, to say that his heart is right.

Let us close this passage with solemn self-inquiry, and use it for the trial of our own state before God. What fruits are we bringing forth in our lives? Are they, or are they not, fruits of the Spirit? What kind of evidence do our words supply as to the state of our hearts? Do we talk like men whose hearts are "right in the sight of God"? There is no evading the doctrine laid down by our Lord in this passage. Conduct is the grand test of character. Words are one great symptom of the condition of the heart."

Can the blind lead the blind? Yes, of course they can! And they frequently do. That is the point of our Lord's teaching. "Be warned," he says. "Be careful you don't end up following them! You are called to lead, at least by example. Make sure, therefore, you can see both within and beyond. Only then will you be able to serve God and all humanity as befits your calling".

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