Commentary on the Gospel of
Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Dear Reader, You and I know that Jesus can use what we call hyperbole, extreme expressions (seemingly playful) to get our attention regarding a serious issue. For example, when Jesus admonishes the scribes and Pharisees, by saying, “Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel,” we get the point. Straining out the gnat is a great image for making a ridiculous fuss about a trivial thing (like being scrupulous about rabbinical expansions of food laws) while being grossly negligent about important matters (like caring for an elderly parent). Once aware of that context, we recognize that “blind” in the phrase “blind guides” is not literal but a metaphor for a failure to “see” in the sense of understanding what is truly important in one’s sense of what is truly important in guiding others in living out the implications of one’s religious faith.
So, when we hear in today’s gospel reading, a segment of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?”—we recognize that Jesus is once again using hyperbole. In fact, the subject is the same, blind guides. But what kind of blindness, or failure to understand, is implied in this context? Luke said in his author’s prologue that he will present his gospel with an eye to an “orderly sequence” [1:3]. Well, just before this proverb about blind guides, which is true in any context, he has just quoted sayings by Jesus about judging others in the sense of (God-like?) condemnation, coupled with a mandate to forgive, so as to be forgiven (apparently by almighty God, since the ‘divine passive’ seems to be implied). The implication, then, is that good leadership within a faith community is ‘Godly’ only if such leadership includes readiness to forgive and generosity in the exercise of judgment.
The imagery of having the ‘eye problem’ of failing to see (understand) clearly, returns in verses 41-42, especially verse 42: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’ when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? You Hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.” We get the hyperbole in the contrast between the splinter and the wooden beam, but what exactly does it mean in practice to “remove the wooden beam” from one’s own eye? Faced with that question I suddenly realized that verse 40 provides the necessary clarifying context: “No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.”
Gracious God, Jesus in this ‘Sermon on the plain’ boldly asks us to imitate you when he says, “Be merciful, just as [also] you Father is merciful.” When we are called to exercise spiritual leadership—as parents, or elder sisters and brothers, or friends, or co-workers, or as bosses, or office holders—help us imitate you, or your great model Jesus. Only that will enable us to focus in a way that will help us to truly see how to exercise our leadership in loving service. Come, Holy Spirit.