The Blind Leading the Blind
Preached on Sunday, July 17, 2011, by
The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.,
At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.(Luke 6:39-42)
When we think of people who have achieved great things in spite of enormous obstacles, surely one of the most amazing stories of the past 150 years is that of Helen Keller. Though Helen Keller was born able to see and hear, she contracted an illness when she was nineteen months old that left her deaf and blind. As a child, she developed some kind of sign language to communicate her basic needs with family members, but she did not really begin to blossom until Anne Sullivan arrived and became her guide and teacher. Under her instruction, Helen Keller, blind and deaf, went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and became a popular author and speaker. What would have happened if Anne Sullivan had never come into her life? The title of the 1962 movie about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan was entitled, The Miracle Worker. No doubt, Anne Sullivan deserved that title. Though Helen Keller remained physically blind, Anne Sullivan taught her new ways of seeing, so much so that she learned much more than many people who have the gift of physical sight. But she needed a guide to teach her to see in this way.
In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells us that we all need a guide, for we are spiritually blind. As we read through the Scriptures, we find that people are often described as being in a case of spiritual blindness. In II Cor. 4:3-4, St. Paul writes, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Whenever we share the gospel of Christ with other people, we wonder why they reject it, or why they don’t understand it. Sometimes, we blame ourselves, thinking that we are not proclaiming the gospel in the right way. We think that if we used different methods, we would be able to reach them. We need to understand that the problem is not with the message, and it is not with the way we are presenting it. The problem is that the other person is blind. The God of this world, Satan, has blinded them, and they cannot see the truth. If you set before a blind person the most beautiful painting in the world, bring them up close to it, no matter how beautiful that painting is, they still won’t be able to see it, because they are blind. Though we present the love of God in Jesus Christ in the most beautiful way possible, unbelievers can’t see it, because the God of this world has blinded their minds. In Ephesians 4:18, the Apostle Paul described those outside of Christ as “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.” “Blindness of heart” is a very important term, for it indicates that though people might be able to understand the facts of the gospel, they are blind in their hearts. This gospel is something that that they can’t see because they hate it. This gospel is offensive to them, and though presented with all clarity, people still reject it because of blindness of heart. They cannot see the glory of God. They cannot see the beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ. They cannot see the reality of spiritual things because they don’t have the eyes to see.
Realizing that people are in this condition of spiritual blindness, what do we do? Do we give up and say, “Well, they are just blind. There is nothing we can do to help them.” No, we mustn’t take that attitude for we were blind at one time ourselves, but now we see. As St. Paul said, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 4:6). We were once in this condition of spiritual blindness, but God had mercy on us, and shined the light into our hearts so that we might see the beauty of our Lord Jesus Christ. This light comes to shine in our hearts through the preaching of the gospel. In Acts 26, St. Paul tells us what the Lord told him to do when he appeared to him on the Damascus Road. He said, “But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me”(Acts 26:16-18). Though people are blind, we still have the command to teach the gospel, trusting the Holy Spirit to take our words, perform a miracle, and open their blind eyes that they might see. It is the preaching of the truth that God uses to open blind eyes. As Christians, we are to function as guides to the blind.
But if we are going to be guides to the blind, we must make sure that we are not blind ourselves. In Luke 6:39, Jesus says, “Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?” In this little proverbial saying, we have a warning to two groups of people. First, there is a warning to those who are following a guide. Then, there is a warning to those who would set themselves up as guides. First, let’s look at this warning to those who are following a guide.
Jesus is teaching us to be careful whom we follow. If you choose a blind guide, you will both fall into the ditch. Although this is a kind of funny proverb, it has a deadly serious warning. In this part of the world, there were many ditches or pits, and one had to be careful, especially at night, because there was the danger that as people walked along the road, they might not see the pit, and fall in. Our Lord is telling us is that when follow the wrong guides, we put ourselves in danger. Following the wrong teacher has disastrous consequences. Following the wrong kind of teaching can lead to emotional distress, bad choices in life, ruined homes and marriages. Following the wrong teaching can lead you to fall into the pit of hell itself.
When Jesus warned his own disciples about the danger of following the blind, he had the Pharisees particularly in mind. You know that the Pharisees prided themselves on being experts in the Scriptures. They were confident that they were qualified and able to tell other people how to live in obedience to God’s word. But over and over, Jesus said that they were blind. There is an incident in the Gospel of Matthew that I find rather amusing. After Jesus has been telling people that it is not what goes inside a man that defiles, but what comes out of him, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Did you know that the Pharisees were offended by what you said.” I would have loved to have seen the look on Jesus’ face when they said that. He must have wanted to say something like, “Do you think I’m worried that some Pharisees were offended by what I said? Of course, they were offended. I expected it to offend them.” But Jesus responds by saying, “Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14). In Matthew 23, Jesus keeps telling the Pharisees that they are blind: “Woe unto you, ye blind guides…(16), “Ye fools and blind… (17), “Ye fools and blind”… (19), “Ye blind guides”… (24),” and “Thou blind Pharisee” (26). Jesus is warning his disciples not to follow the Pharisees, for they were spiritually blind.
If our Lord were here among us right now, I wonder whom he would point to as the blind who are leading the blind? I think he would warn us about the same group of people. Our Lord was looking at the people who were the leading religious figures of that time and culture, the Pharisees,. I have no doubt that he would also look today at our current religious leaders and say that, in many cases, they are the blind leading the blind. We have in the Church itself, those who deny the inspiration of Holy Scripture, those who deny the deity of Christ, those who deny the necessity of Christ’s death on the cross, those who deny the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and those who cast away the law of God and teach that people may live according to their lights and opinions. These are blind leaders of the blind. If preachers and teachers do not lead us according to the fundamental teachings of the Church as summarized in the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, they are blind leaders of the blind, and both will fall into the pit.
When Jesus looked at the blind leaders of his day, he says that their blindness was chiefly revealed in that they thought that obedience to God was chiefly in the observance of man-made rules and regulations, in the observance of external rituals, while neglecting mercy, love, and justice. We have still not learned this lesson all these centuries later. We still think that Christianity is mainly about not going to certain places, not drinking certain things, not watching movies, or any number of things that we have added to our own private list of “Thou shalt not.” We are very convinced about what we should not do. In the long run, we wind up doing the very things we forbid others to do (and worse), and open up ourselves to the charge of hypocrisy. When we make our faith a system about what we don’t do, the world looks for us to slip, so that they can accuse us of hypocrisy. We must be known more for what we do in the way of love, mercy, and justice. While the whole point of obedience to God was to love God with all our hearts and love our neighbor as ourselves, the Pharisees were only concerned with keeping rules. To top it off, they were guilty of doing the same things that they told others they shouldn’t do. They had not only missed the point of what it means to obey God, they didn’t even live by the standards they set up for others. I think of all the Christians who are praising God in church today, saying “Amen,” when the preacher condemns certain kinds of behavior. Then, after the worship, and at work the next day, they will be mean, spiteful, and cruel toward other people. What an example of spiritual blindness!
In Luke 6, Jesus keeps warning about hypocritical judgment. People usually misinterpret these words, “Judge not that ye be not judged,” to mean that we should not judge other people at all. That is not what Jesus was teaching. We are told repeatedly in Scripture that we must make judgments about whether people are right or wrong, true to the faith or heretical, living morally or immorally. Jesus was warning about judging people when you are guilty of doing the same things, and worse, than the people you judge. St. Paul, said that this hypocritical judging was still a problem in his own time, when he wrote,
Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?] Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? (Romans 2:17-23).
St. Paul looks at the Jewish leaders of his day and says, “You think you are a guide of the blind. You think you know so much about the law and that you are qualified to teach others how to live. You tell people not to commit adultery, yet you commit adultery. You tell people not to steal, but you steal. In Luke 6, Jesus is telling us that if a person is not merciful, if a person is cruel and judgmental, if a person is guilty of doing the very things he forbids others to do, he is blind. Don’t follow those people, for they will ruin your lives. Be careful whom you follow as a guide.
Then, our Lord gives a word of caution to those who would set themselves up as guides, those who would be instructors, or teachers, telling others the path that they must follow. Jesus is warning us that if our eyes haven’t been opened to spiritual things, if we do not see clearly how to live our own lives, don’t try to show someone else how to live. You will not only ruin your lives, but the lives of others in the process. Our Lord warns us about worrying about that little speck of dust in your brother’s eye when you have a log in your own eye. In other words, “Why are you so worried about the tiny faults of others when you have huge faults, huge issues in your own life that you need to deal with. Get your own life in shape and then you can help your brother with his life and his problems and faults.”
The only way that we can be qualified to guide others is by closely following Christ himself. You notice that in that next verse Jesus says, “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” Jesus encourages his disciples to look at him and choose him as their master. You will never be any better than the teacher you follow. You will never know more than the teacher to whom you listen. It is only by following Christ that we can function as guides to the blind.
I began this message with a story about Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. Many people don’t realize that Anne Sullivan herself was visually impaired. As a child, like Helen Keller, she had contracted an illness which left her very limited in her visual abilities. When she was a teen-ager, she had a surgery on her eyes which enabled her to see print. After that procedure, she could read books. Soon, she excelled academically and was able even to instruct others like Helen Keller. I like to think that in some ways, Christians are like Anne Sullivan. We too were blind, but we had a spiritual surgery as it were. We were healed of our spiritual blindness. At times, our vision of spiritual things is still somewhat impaired. We don’t see clearly as we desire, we sometimes make mistakes, we don’t watch where we are going, and we stumble and fall. But still, our eyes have been opened to see the glorious beauty of Christ, and it is our desire that others would see his glory and beauty themselves. Though being a blind guide is a terrible thing, and though we often feel guilty because of our own shortcomings, let us not shun the responsibility to guide others and help them to see the glory of the gospel and help them to lead godly lives. Now that our eyes have been opened, it should be our greatest desire to be instruments in God’s hands by which he opens the eyes of others. We truly become miracle workers, when the Holy Spirit uses us to enable others to see the wonders of eternal things.
When Philip found the Ethiopian eunuch reading the book of Isaiah, Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian said, “How can I, except some man should guide me.” The world still needs guides. We have too many blind guides in the world now. Let it be our goal to be those who see clearly. Let us not be blind guides who might lead others to fall into the ditch. Rather, let us be competent, with clear vision, to lead others along the narrow road that leads to life. Amen.