Plato said something like “Give me your children and I will change the world.” James, in his chapter on the tongue (James 3), which is really about teaching, said that the tongue can set on fire the very course of one’s life. The Nazis understood the significance of this truth and created the “Hitler Youth” in 1933. In 1936 they banned the Boy Scouts and made being a Hitler Youth member mandatory. All boys from age 6 and up were required to be a Hitler Youth. They camped, they did crafts, and they learned Hitler’s ideology. They became more and more militant in their training. The goal was to separate them from their parents as young as possible and to indoctrinate them and train them to be fanatic soldiers of the Third Reich. By 1945 ninety percent of the young men of Germany were Hitler Youth. And the course of a generation was set on fire by the tongue.
Some see Luke 6:39-45 as a compilation of random sayings of Jesus. Some see this section as instructions to disciples and others as instructions given to teachers. What if it is about both student and teacher and the dance they do? Jesus gives us three images. The first is easy to identify as being about teaching. A blind man cannot guide a blind man. And if this is about teaching, which the next verse seems to verify, then teaching is more than imparting knowledge – it is guiding. Teaching is about a destination. But if the teacher cannot see and the student is also vision challenged, then a pit will be the destination they stumble into. So, the disciple is not be superior to his teacher. A disciple did not follow around a rabbi merely to learn how to interpret the Torah. He observed his life and tried to imitate it. So, if the teacher was judgmental and hateful, the disciple would do his level best to instill those lovely traits into his life. When the training was fully accomplished the goal was to be just like the teacher. Bad teacher = bad student = pit.
So far so good, but what does the image of the splinter in the eye have to do with teaching and learning? A young man on the streets of Los Angeles tries to deal with his fractured home and his sense of abandonment. A gang may help him feel as if he belongs, but he has surrounded himself with people who have a log in their eye. What they are selling is not true community. The speck in the young man’s eye is not removed. Instead it grows into a beam. Learning is not only about a destination, it is about healing – removing the speck out of your eye so that you can see more clearly. If your teacher has the beam of hatred or some misguided sense of machismo in his eye, you will just get wacked upside the head. Your speck will remain and most likely will grow into a beam (picture a house beam sticking out of your eye).
And learning is also about producing fruit. The destination of learning is to be a good tree. You will need to do some pruning to get there. A good tree, having received painful pruning, having had splinters removed, having humbled itself, does not produce rotten or worthless fruit. And a bad tree, all full of hatred and judgment, cannot produce love or forgiveness, you know, good fruit. Each tree can be known by its fruit. Ah man, there seems to be some judgment involved here. But the truth is, you can decide that someone is a bad tree because they drop bad fruit all around them and still love them – still desire for them to be saved. You have to know what a bad tree is, otherwise you may become the disciple of a bad tree, and the result of that will be you becoming a bad tree. The blind guide and the bad tree are one and the same. Falling into the pit and producing rotten fruit are the same result. This is all about learning and teaching.
And the heart of the matter is, well, the heart. For the Jews, the heart was more the seat of thought than the seat of emotions. The heart represented the whole inner man. And inside each person there is a storeroom reserved for what is treasured. That is the key. What do you treasure? If you treasure good, you will produce good. If you treasure evil, if your storeroom is chock full of hatred, your fruit will be rotten. And your speech will be rotten, spewing forth evil from the treasure trove of your heart.
In the western world, we really don’t get this concept. We have all had teachers we did not respect. We are taught that you can and should rise above your teachers. But Jesus is talking about a rabbi/disciple relationship. He is talking about people your respect and admire. Do you admire the religious teacher who belittles and despises those simpletons who don’t agree with him? Bad tree = bad fruit. Admire the good tree, producing the fruit of love and mercy. Be a good tree producing good fruit. Blessings, Walter