39 He also told them this parable: "Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40 Students are not above their teacher, but all who are fully trained will be like their teacher.
41 "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say, 'Friend, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person's eye.
A Tree and Its Fruit
43 "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.
The Wise and Foolish Builders
46 "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? 47 As for those who come to me and hear my words and put them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But those who hear my words and do not put them into practice are like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete."
It’s easy to sit and listen to a great speaker and get inspired by them. Think of how many times in your life you’ve gone to hear a motivational speaker or a good preacher or even just an emotional speech in a movie and you got inspired. You can feel the swell of emotion and desire to make a difference well up in you and you just want to go and act heroically on what you heard. Most of us, though, tend to let that initial wave of desire to act wane a bit. We begin to examine the specifics of doing something and the reality begins to set in. So, we begin to think more and talk more about it. In fact, we can often begin to talk about something so much and get in so much detail about it that we don’t actually take action. I recall being a teacher and spending meeting after meeting after meeting talking about some new idea or program but we got so bogged down in thinking about it and working out every little imaginable detail that we seemingly never acted on anything, and eventually the ideas would just fade into the background. At some point we have to take action. At some point, we cannot sit by any longer as idle listeners and evaluate the pros and cons of taking action. There is certainly a time and place to determine the cost of taking action but at some point, we need to act on what we’ve heard. We need, in short, to make a decision.
In many senses, this is what Jesus is saying in this passage to his listeners. They have seen the miracles and they have listened to his shocking new teaching and what the kingdom of God was going to be about in this new era. Some obviously immediately rejected it and some quickly embraced Jesus’ teaching and decided to follow him. But we get the sense that the majority of his listeners that day were like us. They sat and listened to Jesus and many, no doubt, got excited about the possibilities of this strange but exhilarating new humanity to which he was calling people. But they had to make a decision. They had to decide who they were going to follow. Would it be the Pharisees and the teachers of the law or would it be Jesus? At some point they needed to stop listening and getting vaguely inspired and decide which way of life they were going to go after and who they were going to follow. They just needed to make a decision.
Luke gives us a barrage of four separate sayings from Jesus that all have to do with, in one way or another, who his listeners are going to follow. Whose version of the kingdom of God are they going to embrace? We tend to read these sayings in a very serious and somber tone, and when we do so, we lose something of the original intent. There is a serious point behind each of these sayings, but they were meant to be a little bit humorous. Sometimes well-placed humor can challenge us far more than something said seriously. Jesus had an incredible way of teaching by using local humor and everyday things to get across very important points.
His first little saying concerning the blind sets the tone and topic for the other three sayings. The question is clear. What happens when you are blind and don’t know where you’re going but choose to follow another blind person? How is that going to work out for you? Do you really want to follow another person that is simply groping along, trying to find their way or do you want to follow someone who can see and who knows where they are going? A student is not above his teacher, so if the teacher is blind and about to go in a ditch, where does that leave the student? It was typical in Jewish literature to metaphorically use “blind” to refer to someone who lacked spiritual insight and it would seem that the Pharisees and teachers of the law are Jesus’ main target here. There is a bit of suspense in verse 39-40 that Luke leaves hanging. The crowd has listened to Jesus up to this point and now what will their response be? Which teacher will they follow? Will they hear and take Jesus’ message to heart by acting on it or not? If one becomes like their teacher, how will they become like their teacher? Jesus’ unstated but obvious point was that there is only one teacher that can truly see and who should be followed.
The question was did they want to follow a teacher who was truly showing them another way to live, God’s fresh solution to the problems of a world entangled in sin, or did they want to follow hypocritical teachers who did little more than to find fault with everyone around them and blame them as the sinners who were the cause of the problems? He illustrated this point with the ridiculous example of someone examining someone else’s life so closely that they see a speck of sawdust in their eye, all the while paying no attention to huge plank of wood hanging out of their own. It doesn’t take too much imagination to picture Jesus actually demonstrating this silly scenario by holding a large stick up to his eye which would have, no doubt, made the crowds chuckle at the spectacle while at the same time challenging them to think about the absurdity of such hypocrisy. The problem with the hypocritical sin sniffer that Jesus described was that their supposed devotion to God and personal piety lead them to censure the failings of others, but their behavior was not being determined by the kind of love and mercy that God really wants for his children. The heart and the action are inconsistent.
The brilliance of this example is that Jesus was not just pointing out the problem of teachers like the Pharisees but he was also challenging his listeners, and us who read his words today, to live by his standard. His challenge was to reject that kind of hypocrisy and follow him rather than the blind guides. Ultimately, though, we must realize that Jesus was criticizing hypocritical judgment not the act of lovingly helping another with their sin. His rebuke was against those who criticize and lose sleep over little tiny aspects of the law or their pet religious practices, and all the while ignore the main things like God’s love, mercy, and justice (see Matt. 23:23-24 for similar sentiment). This doesn’t mean that Jesus was calling for his followers to never challenge others on their sin. The ideal situation, said Jesus, was to remove the plank and then be able to help your brother remove the speck. He wanted the speck removed but not before the plank was dealt with.
So how could one know a blind teacher from one that could see? How could one recognize the teacher that did not have a plank hanging out of his own eye? Jesus said to check the fruit. In another example of exaggeratory humor he gave a picture of a fig coming from a thorn brush or a grape from briers. Everyone knew the silliness of such a suggestion. It just didn’t happen. One of the ways (although certainly not the sole way) to tell a good teacher from a bad one is to look at the outcome of their lives. Good people produce good words that come from a good heart.
Verse 46, then, is really the application of the fruit example that Jesus gave in verse 43-45, and a bridge to Jesus’ final illustration in verses 47-49. In the fruit example, Jesus warned of those who would have inherent inconsistency between their lives and what they said. Those who claim Jesus as “Lord” but then don’t obey are a clear example of that. Jesus wanted the crowd to embrace his vision of the kingdom and reject the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and he realized that a large part of doing that would be to truly embrace Jesus as Lord by embracing his radical worldview and the new family to which he was calling his people. To claim Jesus as “Lord” and then not really do what he said would be to follow the way of the blind guides who showed themselves to be blind in the fact that the fruit of their lives did not match up with their words. This is also an issue of authority. How can one call Jesus “Lord,” and give him authority in word, while keeping the real authority for ourselves by not living according to his authority?
The imagery for Jesus’ final illustration comes primarily from Ezekiel 13. In that passage, God promises that he will send the violent winds and waves to wipe out the flimsy walls of those false prophets who have spoken presumptively in God’s name. They will be wiped out, says Ezekiel. Jesus uses that imagery to make the point that those who build their lives on his teaching will not have those kinds of concerns. Following Jesus is the only way that one will be able to withstand the coming judgment of God. Any other foundation than the word of God revealed through the life of Jesus. The structure that is built on any other foundation will last for a while but eventually will not stand the judgment of God. This brings us to the importance of understanding the context of Ezekiel 13, the passage to which Jesus alludes. We often think of the flood in this illustration as being the troubles of life, but the fact is that there are other things one can build their “house” on which can withstand difficult times in life. But building on the foundation of Jesus is the only thing that can stand up to the flood of God’s righteous judgment. Following Jesus as our teacher certainly will help us through the winds and waves of life, but it is the only thing that will withstand the storm of God’s righteous judgment.
All of this calls us to make a decision and follow Jesus as well but each teaching has a very personal and practical application to our own lives. Are we following blind guides (including ourselves) or are we truly following Jesus and acting as though he is truly the Lord of our life in more than just word? Are we quick to point out the specks in the eyes of others while ignoring the planks in our own lives? Do we have fruit in our lives that betrays the vine from which we claim to come? Do we look good on the outside but have hearts that remain unchanged? Have we built without the true foundation? These are questions that we would all do well to spend some serious time considering.
Jesus points out the folly of calling Jesus “Lord” but then not really doing what he says. Do you see that folly play out in your life at times? In what area of your life do you most need to start doing what Jesus says and truly make him Lord rather than just calling him that?