Friday, September 9, 2011

Discipling & Hypocrisy: Homily for September 9, 2011

And he told them a parable, “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? 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. Luke 6:39–42 (NAB)
Jesus passes along to us this morning some insights about influence and about spirituality in the context of discipling. Jesus is the master in leading and training men, and he is talking about the need for people in our lives who can give us good spiritual direction. And just as importantly, about the people in our lives who cannot give us spiritual direction.

He says the person who is blind is by definition not a good guide. In the immediate context, he is probably addressing the Pharisees. His
thought in addressing his disciples about this problem runs like this: The disciple of a rabbi dedicates himself to his master’s teachings and way of life. Thus he cannot be expected to be different from, or better than, his master (v. 40). If the rabbi who is a Pharisee lacks a proper view of life, his student will be also misled (v. 39). Let’s keep in mind that not all Pharisees were grouped together for criticism by Jesus, but there were groups of Pharisaical teachers whom Jesus was addressing here.

There are two illustrations here—the blind guide, and the hypocritical and hypercritical splinter-hunter, and some people think these two observations were just dumped together randomly, as if Luke is just remembering a lot of folksy wisdom sayings of Jesus. But these two illustrations are perfectly situated together in Jesus observations. Jesus is talking about Pharisaical, hypocritical splinter-hunting (the King James version, which was the one used by the Apostle Paul), says “mote”…..Jesus is dealing with leaders who are blind to their own massive flaws, hypocritically trying to lead others when they are compromised, hypercritically concerned about little nits and small things when they have massive problems, and the end product is just more people like them.
The hypercritical criticism and hypocritical lifestyle and hostility already apparent in the Pharisees may unfortunately crop up in their disciples, but it must never find a place among Jesus’ disciples.

Whenever I see legalism, Pharisaical mote-hunting, people more concerned with little issues than big ones, I look around for the source. This is a particular occupational hazard for religious leaders. It is a particular religious hazard for people who are in “the right church.” I know. I was in “the right church” for a long time…until I found out how wrong I was. But for a long time I spent a lot of time pointing out how everyone else was wrong. A steady diet of that is not good for you, or for the people around you. There are circles in the Catholic Church where all you get is a steady diet of this junk food—where someone is wrong, why the Pope is off base, why the Bishop is a dope, why Father A should do something else, where the deacon blew it in the homily—it is going to affect you. That’s the context of the second illustration (v. 41) of the “speck” (karphos) and the “plank” (dokon); you miss the religious implication if you don’t see when the person who casually calls the person he is criticizing “brother” (v. 42); the reality is jarring when he suddenly hears himself called “hypocrite” by the Lord.

It's almost comical--they got all the religious terminology, but there is this massive plank in his eye. As my daddy always says, “when the dog’s got you by the leg, you can’t holler ‘sic ‘em.’” There’s another point here—there are big issues, and there are little issues. Sometimes people with big issues get all wrapped around the axle about the little issues in other’s lives.

There are two warnings here—be careful who you listen to or imitate, and be careful when you correct others, and about what you are correcting them.

It’s important that we don’t get all “American” here….comes across like “well, I don’t listen to anybody, I don’t let anyone influence me, I just do what God tells me.” We are going to influence others, and we are going to be influenced by others.

Our first grandson, Avery, was born in very frail shape, almost premature, and for weeks he was not gaining weight, his color was really off, somewhat jaundiced, and folks were really concerned. I asked my son for a paternity test, because a Bauer who could not gain weight must not have our DNA—man, I can look at one of those donuts after Mass and I get stuffed, not the bulletin.

People who are negative are influenced by negative people. People who are critical and fault-finding listen to critical and fault-finding people. People who are positive and faithful will have positive and faithful children. You can’t have it the opposite way. You can’t subject your children to a steady diet of negativity, fault-finding, and “brother, let me remove that” (most of the time these folks talk about how someone else should remove the speck, without even the courage to confront the one with the supposed fault)…but you can’t expect people to be positive and encouraging if they are not hanging around positive and encouraging people. The reason why my children are not faithful Christians today has to be, in a major way, is that they were exposed to a steady diet of what I call "church crap" when I was in ministry.

Be careful about your influence—you are going to have some! And if you find yourself being this way, check your influences—and change the channel. Daddy also said, “if you lay down with the dogs, you’re gonna get up with the fleas.”

The other wrong response here is “well, there are so many hypocrites in the church”, so I am leaving. Someone said, well, church is the best place for hypocrites—presumably because they can get the help they need to change. Jesus is not talking about ignoring problems—he gives us really clear guidance how to fix them, in the gospels a few weeks ago—Matthew 18 (individual confrontation, confrontation with witnesses, telling it to the church—most problems in the church can be solved that way)…but he is talking about someone trying to correct others when there are massive issues in the first individual’s life.

James said, “not many of us should presume to teach, my brothers, because we who teach will be judged more severely.”

So, what kind of influence will we have, and how will we have a positive impact on others? Jesus words are cautionary this morning—people are going to imitate what they see. Let’s close with more wisdom from one who heard these words of Jesus, James the Apostle:

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. Wisdom of this kind does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace. James 3:13–18 (NAB)

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