When we lived in Napier I had some problems with my eyes. It meant a couple of trips to wellington for operations and after that a check-up. Kris took me down in our car for the operations, but I went by bus for the check-up by myself. I stayed with my good friend Keith and his family overnight and he took me into the clinic the next morning. The doctor decided I needed to have an injection of steroids into my eyes. The after effect of the steroid injection was that I had a white out… It was like a blizzard except the snow was in my eyeballs. I couldn’t see a thing and wouldn’t until the drug dissolved into the fluid in my eyes.
Keith had gone to visit one of his parishioners at the hospital while I was being seen and I don’t know how I did it but I managed to walk out of the clinic, down the stairs, clutching the handrail feeling each step with my foot and out into the carpark and off to where I thought we’d parked the car. And I stood there waiting for Keith to come back. I jumped when Keith spoke to me, because he had walked across the car park right up to me, nose to nose, and I hadn’t seen him coming. He told me I was standing beside the wrong car and lead me to his car… we drove to a café in Newtown and he had to guide me across the road into the café and to a table. Over an hour a cup of coffee and some good conversation the café slowly came into view like it was emerging out of a deep, deep fog. After that Keith helped me to get to the wellington train station to catch a bus home. He got me on the right bus and by the time I got back to Napier my eyes were fine again. I had to trust Keith to be my guide, I had to trust in his integrity his eye sight and in his friendship … I felt safe with him as my guide.
Ironically that experience of blindness gave me some insight in to the parables or riddles that Jesus starts the last section of his sermon on the plains with… Can the blind lead the blind? Can you get a speck out of someone else’s eye unless you get rid of the log or plank in your own? You can judge a tree by its fruit… Some plain talking about being careful about which life guide we choose and also how the call to show exceptional love in light of God’s gracious offering of blessing calls us to have a deep change of heart that can only come, as we see next week, from Knowing Jesus listening to him and putting what he says into practise in our lives.
The sayings of Jesus that we are looking at today are some his most vivid word pictures. We are used to thinking of Jesus words being very serious so we often miss that yes they are supposed to be funny… The blind leading the blind is absurd. Can you imagine Keith driving me round Wellington without his glasses or simply that he was blind and I’d never noticed it. I couldn’t help think of that vintage cartoon character mr MaGoo where the humour comes from the fact that despite being as blind as a bat Mcgoo manages to bungle his way through. Being unaware of a log sticking out of your eye…is also absurd…Can you imagine going to a doctor with a speck in your eye only to be greeted by someone whose right eye is impaled by a chair leg and he says sit still I’ll just get it with these razor sharp tweezers. Or growing a bramble bush and as summer comes to an end going down and looking to see if you’ve got grapes. It is what makes them memorable and just maybe as Jesus is saying some very serious things here that the best way to broach the subject is with humour… and it is absurd to look to the spiritually blind for guidance, to try and remove the speck from other peoples eyes when your own view is so flawed, and we do need to look for good fruit that comes from a good heart in those we let speak into our lives and lead us.
To understand these parables we need to put them in the context of Jesus sermon. As we had been working our way through Jesus early ministry in Luke we’d seen that his revolution of grace had reached out to those that the religious leaders of the day viewed as sinners and outcasts, it had lead Jesus further and further into conflict with them. In these saying Jesus is contrasting himself with these other teachers. AS NT Wright puts it ‘each is a about rival teachers, rival visions of the Kingdom, about solutions that leave the depth of the problem untouched.”
The blind leading the blind is a warning that those who cannot see cannot lead us. The application is that a student is not above their teacher, but when fully trained will be like their teacher. All the way through the gospel Jesus accuses the Pharisees and religious leaders of being spiritual blind to who he is and to the nature of God and his Kingdom. These spiritually blind leaders will lead the people into a ditch. They will only produce more people like themselves. We need to find a teacher and guide with faith and spiritual eyesight. It underscores the need for trustworthy and insightful guidance for life. Jesus with his display of God’s grace and mercy shows us that he is the one who can best fit that role. It’s also a challenge to his disciples because they would soon move from being simple followers to leaders, and for them then and us now we need as the book of Hebrews says to fix our eyes firmly on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith...
The second parable Speaks very much into the way the Pharisees had focused on increasingly more minute details of the law and had missed the central and important part of God’s call to show mercy and love. They had come to focus more and more on Israel being separate and holy and had forgotten that Israel was to be the light of the world. In psychological terms what Jesus is describing is called transference, we look at the faults in others and it enables us to ignore our own inadequacies. The heart if the Christian life is that we look at our own lives and we allow God to bring wholeness and healing to our lives and then and only then are we able to remove the speck from our brothers eye. Jesus uses the word hypocrite here, we can put on the mask of righteousness and holiness and try and maintain it by spotting the faults in others but to be a spiritual leader we need to have a deeper transformation, one that does not judge and criticise but is aware of the exceptional love they have been shown in Christ and his forgiveness and who will then use that as the lens to look and minister to others… and with love to address the specks looking for healing and wholeness. Again it points us to Jesus as that teacher and leader, who has good eye sight who sees into the heart of human beings and can be trusted to deal with the logs and specks in our eyes.
It would be easy to think that it was just the Pharisees that has this problem of speck hunting instead of plank removing…but it is a danger for religious people and in particular the church down through the ages. The Russian Orthodox Church, so the story goes, were embroiled and consumed by a debate over vestments and clerical garb, at the time that the Bolshevik revolution occurred. They were in no position in that time to provide moral and spiritual leadership to the nation. We have to ask, Are we just seack-ulators? Do we have tunnel vision zeroing in on the speck in each other’s eyes unaware of the plank in our own? and will we miss that revolution of God’s grace?
The third one switches metaphors from problems with impaired vision to a crash course in Horticultural identification. That you judge a tree by its fruit. A good tree will bear good fruit and a bad tree bad fruit. You can’t expect to get grapes off a brier or figs from thorn bushes. I may have mentioned it before, but every time I read this passage I get this very bitter taste in my mouth…Because when we lived in Rotorua we had this tree in our front yard… It looked like a cheery tree… when it bloomed it looked like cheery tree blossoms and when it developed fruit they looked like cherries…Which I thought was great because the Carter family love cherries… In summer holidays when and where we can we will buy a box of them and drive along the road eating them and spitting the stones out of the sun and moon roof of our van. So I thought I’d taste these fruit and see how sweet they were… They weren’t at all… they sent my face into all sorts of contortions because of their bitterness… Yes they were nice looking fruit but it was a decorative cherry tree not an eating cherry tree. The fruit proved it…You could only tell the difference when you bit into them. Jesus says you can only tell what kind of tree it is, what kind of leader and teacher you are following, what kind of person we are, by the fruit in their and our, lives. What is in their hearts will eventually manifest itself in their lives.
Now we need to realise that a tree only fruits at certain times and at the end of a process of growth maturing and times of flowering and blossoming and also barren times. We don’t judge people by a one off incident or a single character fault, but it’s a long process of what their life produces. In John’s gospel Jesus uses the metaphor from the old testament of the grape vine where Jesus is the vine and we are the branches and we are being pruned and tended by the gardener to produce fruit and the branches only being able to produce fruit as they abide in Jesus. It again is a call for us to look to Jesus and see the fruit of who he is and to look to and abide in him. As we’ve followed Jesus through the gospel story we see the fruit he produces good news for the poor, recovery of sight for the blind release and liberty for the oppressed, the announcement of the acceptable year of the lord, that gracious offer of blessing the mercy of God the Father being given to people, as we look forwards to the cross and we see the mercy and love of God in Jesus death to bring about our salvation, and establish the kingdom of God, the sending of the Holy Spirit on his people to continue to lead and guide us, to show us Jesus and his words.
How does this apply to us today… There are many practical points from these three parables that help us to show exceptional love: That we need to open the eyes of our heart as we sang earlier, to allow ourselves to have spiritual insight and look with the eyes of Jesus. It may be as simple to pray and act out of the attitude” Jesus help me to see this person as you do?” The call to look at our own lives and see our blind spots and need for change and transformation and not to avoid that by looking at the specks in other people’s eyes. I try and pray when I see faults in others, Jesus show me how I need to change in that area or attitude… That we treat people like trees and look for the fruit they produce in the long and be willing to commit to tending and encouraging healthy growth. While Jesus uses the image of fig trees and grape vines, I’ve had different fruit picking jobs in my life, and sometimes like with berry picking to get to the good fruit you had to get past the thorns.
Secondly, these vivid word sketches invite us to see a process of transformation in our lives, each parable invites us to look deeper and deeper into who we are. Exceptional love comes from more than just having our spiritual eyes opened, It invites us to go beyond simply comparing ourselves with others and the outward appearance, to being prepared to open ourselves up to the light of Christ and allow him to bring change and transformation so as we said last week we can look and act through the lens of Christ’s Love it goes right down to the heartwood, where our character and our fruit reflect that knowing and experiencing and obeying the love of Jesus. We need a change of heart. I actually believe that for Christianity to bring lasting societal change calls for us not only to work for it but to be about calling people to come to Jesus and have him change their lives. Evangelism and social justice go hand in hand...
But most importantly, in these riddles Jesus points us to himself as the guide and teacher that can be trusted. The call to show exceptional love in response to God’s gracious offer of Blessing is a call to come and to trust and to respond to the exceptional lover Jesus. How can we show such love unless we know the one who shows such love that we are led by one who shows such love, that we experience the transforming love and presence of one who shows such love, Jesus Christ. Jesus has come from the very heart of God and sees and knows it, Jesus righteousness is not a mask an act, it comes from a clear vision of the Kingdom and purposes and grace of God. The fruit that Jesus produces comes from a good and pure heart…that reflects the love and very nature of God. AS we are going to see next week the way for us to respond to that; to allow ourselves to have a clearer vision of Jesus as the mist falls from our eyes is to hear what Jesus says and to put it into practise in our lives.