Gospel: Luke 6:39-45

Ambition, Judgment, and Character

What attitudes in Christians break down trust in faith and the Church? Why do they cause a lack of trust?

Like any organization fulled with human beings, ambition, cynicism, and weak character lurk in the Body of Christ. Chalk these faults up to the frailties of human nature or the effects of original sin. Baptism does not take away the temptation to dwell in the self; ordained ministry does not guarantee altruistic leadership. Christians, like anyone else, can fall into sins of selfishness.

In this Sunday's gospel, Jesus addressed ambition, judgement, and weak character with images common to his time. In doing so, he touched upon the discourse of the last two weeks: the beatitudes-woes and love of enemy.

Popular Translation

As he taught his followers,

39 Jesus also told them some parables:

"Can someone in the dark lead another person in the dark? 40 Won't they both fall into a ditch?

40 "No student is ever smarter than his teacher. Even when he graduates, he will only be his teacher's equal.

41 "Why do you see the tiny speck of sawdust in your friend's eye, but you cannot see the large beam of wood in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your friend, 'let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you don't see the beam in your own eye? Liar! First, kick out the beam from your own eye. Then, you will see the speck in your friend's eye clearly enough to wipe it way.

43 A good tree does not bear sour fruit. And a rotten tree does not bear sweet fruit. 44 You can recognize a tree by the fruit it makes. People don't pick figs in the thorns. And they don't pick grapes in thorny bushes. 45 A good person brings out goodness from the treasure of a loving heart. And, a bad person brings out evil from a heart full of hate. For, when a person speaks, they show what's in their heart."

In Luke, Jesus began his discourse on relations with non-Christians. First, he defined poor (Christian) from rich (Pharisee). Next, he described the ideal response of the Christian to his enemies. Finally, in this week's gospel, he finished his discourse with a set of parables (blindness, schooling, carpentry, and agriculture) describing the style of leadership every Christian is called to.

Literal Translation

39 HE also told them a parable:

"Is a blind (person) able to guide (another) blind (person)? Will they not both fall into a ditch? 40 A student is not above (his) teacher, but, having been fully trained, (he) will be like his teacher.

The parables began with two images: the blind and the student. Both refer to the ambition for leadership. A blind person cannot lead anyone, much less another blind person. To modern sensibilities, this appears to be a harsh analogy. The sight impaired can receive help and succeed in today's world. But, Jesus referred to spiritual blindness. Such a lack of inner sight could be newness to the Christian walk, a failure to mature based upon moral weakness, or a lack of commitment. God and the Church do not call the new, the weak, and the uncommited simply based upon their desires or ambitions. A call to leadership takes commitment and patience, study and reflection, prayer and openness.

The student who declared his own mastery of the subject, his rejection and disdain for his teacher, or his refusal to learn was blind. In the "school" of Christian life, anyone who declared his spiritual maturity did not have the humility necessary to walk behind the Master. No one can reject the Master and still call him or herself a Christian. And, the one who refused to do deepen knowledge and insight into faith faltered in their faith journey. The Christian leader (a vocation we all have, unlike Church leadership) must always remember the Master who gave him or her the vision to see the Way and the desire to learn.

41 Why do you see the speck (of sawdust) in your brother's eye, but you do not notice the beam (of lumber) in (your) own eye? 42 How are you able to say to your brother: 'Brother, permit (me that) I might remove the speck from your eye,' you yourself not seeing the beam in your eye? Hypocrite! First, cast out the beam from your eye, then you will clearly see the speck in your brother's eye (enough) to cast (it) out.

6:41-42 In these two verses, Jesus invoked the image of two carpenters working side-by-side. When splinters of wood or sawdust flies, some will find their way into the eyes. If one carpenter asks another for help, its only natural to help the person in pain.

Tying these verses to 6:37 ("Don't judge . . . or condemn . . . but acquit"), Jesus implied the person asked (the one who wants to take the speck from the other carpenter's eye) should not reply with criticism. Negative criticism is neither constructive or requested. In addition, the critic many times chides others to cover over their own personal fault.

6:41 " . . . speck (of sawdust) . . . the beam (of lumber) . . . " The word "speck" can also be translated "splinter." Jesus used extreme images (common in Semitic analogies) to make a point. When we judge others, we notice (and criticize) the smallest details. Yet that judgment blinds us to our own faults, some of which can be truly major in scope.

Jesus used an analogy from his own background as a carpenter. He pointed to the temptation in leaders to make negative, and sometimes rash, moral judgments. It was easier to point and condemn, than to take time to reflect, take stock, and reform.

The analogy of the speck and the beam implied a greater issue for Christians: repentance. The critic cannot repent, unless critical focus was pointed inward. Christians, by definition, were reformed sinners following the Lord. As sinners, they were no better than the people they looked upon. As the reformed, they struggled with the moral life and they received God's grace as a gift; struggle and grace had no place with judgment. As Christians, they followed One Greater than they were; Christians cannot take the place of the Judge they profess to worship. Sharp moral criticism was diametrically opposed to repentance.

43 For a good tree does not produce rotten fruit, nor again does a rotten tree produce good fruit. 44 For each tree is known from (its) own fruit. For, not from thorns do (people) collect figs, nor from thorn bushes do (people) gather bunches of (ripe) grapes. 45 The good man from the good treasure of the heart brings forth good. And the evil (person) from the evil (heart) brings forth evil. For his mouth speaks from the excess of the heart."

6:43-45 In this section, Jesus used an agricultural analogy. Just as good fruit comes from good trees, people reveal their character through their speech. Jesus seemed to say, "Listen to someone long enough, and you will know where their heart lies."

Jesus finished his parables with an image of fruit trees. The quality of fruit and trees were not interchangeable. Nor could someone pick quality fruit from plants not known for such produce. Like fruit, the acts of a person revealed their character. Ultimately, a person would be known by the quantity and quality of their speech. The sheer amount of verbage did not make someone a good person. And the person who tried to hide their true intentions would soon be found out. Words must match action. Action must match words.

Followers of Christ must act and speak with a single purpose. They must also surround themselves with others who are single-hearted. In this way, followers could maximize their efforts to evangelize, to bring others to Christ, his Church, and his mission.

Which of the three images impressed you: blind-student, work working, or fruit on the tree? Why? How can your image help you put the gospels from the last two weeks in perspective?

The parable images of the blind-student, the woodworking, and the fruit tree finished the cycle of images over three Sundays. First, Jesus compared the rich and the poor to differentiate Christians from others (especially enemies). Next, he addressed behavior that could invite others to evangelization, even in the face of persecution. Finally, he spoke of true Christian character: one concerned with the good of others. If we, as Christians, truly wish to follow Jesus, we must focus our ambitions, our judgment, and our very character on others. Questions of the self turn to questions of the community.

We, the poor who share with others, must respond to our enemies and friends in love. We must treat others as God has treated us.

The hallmark of Christian leadership is concern for others. Choose one area this week to turn to the good of another.