Commentary on the Gospel of
Many years ago, before I was a college professor or a Catholic school diocesan administrator, and even longer before my first job as an assistant principal in a Catholic high school, I was a music teacher (or, as I liked to put it then, a teaching musician). In preparation for that career, I studied trumpet and euphonium (not many people know what a euphonium is, so I’ll tell you here – it’s like a tenor tuba, and one of the most beautiful instruments of the brass family). Of all my training, I especially enjoyed playing in ensembles. In fact, at one point in my life, I aspired to be a performer, and I spent many years honing my craft. Along the way, I encountered many interesting teachers.
As I reflect on that journey and those teachers whom I encountered, I recall one conductor who abruptly explained during a rehearsal:
You all need to be better than me!
The ensemble was stunned.
He then elaborated on his point by drawing an X/Y coordinate graph on the whiteboard behind him. He illustrated on that graph that if we as his students were to miss the mark, and if our students missed the mark as well, and so on, it would perpetuate a cycle that (as he explained in jest) would lead to the downfall of humanity. The graph on the wall resembled a terrible week in the stock market. We then went on to rehearse whatever Sousa march was on the rehearsal schedule, but that commentary always stuck with me. Was it true? Could it be that easy – that students surpassing their teachers is the key to building up our collective humanity?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus poses the question – “can a blind person guide a blind person?” The answer, of course, is no! As human beings, we are far too blinded by our own shortcomings to be able to sit in judgement of others. But, like many things, it is easier said than done. After all, so many things can get in the way. Traits of our humanity, such as ego, implicit bias, a fear of being revealed as imperfect – these can all obscure our view of the world, and it has all led to the many societal injustices that have plagued mankind since mankind was able to keep track of societal injustices.
When I took time to consider today’s Gospel message, my thoughts drifted to the incredible tension that exists in society today. I wonder if that tension is what gives rise to the terrible “cancel culture” that has developed – where we judge our fellow humans based on the one worst thing that they have ever said or done – without ever first considering our own flaws. It is so easy to get discouraged by this, because we all have faults. I would not want to be judged by my fellow humans on the one worst thing I have ever said. And if you think about it, you probably wouldn’t either. Our humanity is the sum-total of our works, and any judgement of that comes not in this life, but in the next.
Jesus answered his question about the blind leading the blind by declaring that “no student is superior to the teacher” (which completely dismantles my professor’s theory from long ago). Rather, Jesus said that “when fully trained every disciple will be like his teacher.” We build up humanity not by judging others, but by striving for the model that Jesus provides. And when we take a greater interest in our own journey toward that ideal, and when we remove that plank from our own eye one splinter at a time, that is when we are more able to lift each other up for the greater good.
Now, let’s embrace each other, ugly faults and all, and get to the work at hand!