The Disciple and the Teacher 

by Herb Montgomery

Road leading to a cross

“A disciple is not superior to one’s teacher. It is enough for the disciple that he become‚ like his teacher.” (Q 6:40)

Luke 6:40: The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.

Matthew 10:24-25: The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

This week’s saying is the age-old adage, “Like teacher, like student.” We take on the characteristics of our teachers. This is why choosing an appropriate mentor or instructor is an important step in becoming who you want to be: your teachers shape the kind of person you become.

An example is a few years ago I wanted to learn how to throw pottery.  I didn’t just go out an sit at the feet of any one who does pottery. I choose teachers who throw pottery well and whose style I also appreciate.  Find teachers who, themselves, resonate with what you want to become.

This translates into every area of life.  If I want to become something different than I already am, then I need to increase the diversity of those I allow to teach me. If I want to stay the same and never risk changing, then I need to choose teachers that are just like me. If I do the latter, though, it’s not likely that genuine, revolutionary learning can take place. It is likely that my old ways of thinking will only be reinforced and more deeply ingrained.

The saying of Jesus that we’re looking at this week appears in two different contexts in Matthew and Luke. A majority of scholars believe that Luke follows the Q text more closely, so we will begin with that.

Luke

Luke‘s version follows the passage we looked at last week where Jesus asks, “Can the blind lead the blind?” The passage invites us to choose teachers with developed senses of perception. If you choose teachers who are ignorant rather than aware,, you will share in their ignorance. As Jesus taught, fully trained students are like their teachers. So if you want keen perception for yourself, stop giving the seat of instruction in your life to those who cannot see. This could be one of the most revolutionary things some of us can do to change our lives: simply choose a different set of teachers.

This seems to me to be Luke’s emphasis as he shares Jesus’s saying. In this statement, Jesus is contrasting his teaching with the popular teachings of his time. Examples of contemporary teachings include the Pharisees’ drift away from Hillel to Shammai, and the idea that violent revolution was needed to overthrow Rome. For Luke, however the strongest teachings that Jesus competed with are the economic models of his day. Luke, much like Sayings Gospel Q, presented a world based on the economics of care. The Reign of God to Jesus is people taking care of people, a world where people come before profits, and where exploitation and subjugation give way to the predominant need, as opposed to being the means of an elite’s greed.

Matthew 

Matthew’s gospel has a different focus: Jesus encouraging his disciples. When the disciples are mistreated, Jesus says, they are simply receiving the same treatment Jesus was faced with. This teaching has been helpful to me personally.

Whenever I am being lied about, misrepresented, or slandered because I’m teaching something found in the sayings of Jesus, I go back and reread the entire chapter of Matthew 10. It doesn’t make the treatment any more comfortable, but it does encourage me that I’m not alone. I’m standing in a stream that stretches far back before me and will continue on long after me. It helps me to think of all who have been ill-treated for standing up for what is right. I remember the saying, “Worse things have happened to better people.” And most of all, I realize that I’m in the right story. What I’m experiencing is nothing new, and Jesus was here before me.

Being like Jesus

Recently my friend David Hayward at NakedPastor.com drew a sketch that sums up this teaching nicely!

http://i0.wp.com/nakedpastor.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/more-like-jesus.jpg

What does it mean to be like Jesus? Do we really understand all that it means to become like the teacher we read about in the gospels?

Being like Jesus involves learning how to love, how to embrace those at the bottom of our society’s various pyramids of domination, oppression, and subjugation. It also means learning how to work alongside those being marginalized and embracing accusation, rejection and possibly execution. There are many who have lived that kind of life. In history, that includes Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but there are countless others who have also lost their lives for standing up to the status quo and working to make this world a safer home for all.

I’ve learned over the last few years that following Jesus doesn’t only mean trying to teach the same things he taught. It also means standing in solidarity with those Jesus stood in solidarity with and having the courage Jesus had to keep standing with them even when threats arise from those who benefit from the way things are and who feel threatened by change.

Lucretia Mott, a historical figure I look up to, was fond of quoting William Penn’s statement, “Men are to be judged by their likeness to Christ, rather than their notions of Christ.” [1]

I’ve noticed that many of my fellow U.S. Christians have developed very strong notions about Christ at the same time that others perceive them as unlike him. (A fantastic read to understand this dynamic deeper is unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters.) We may think we’re being faithful by defending strong beliefs about Jesus and yet we miss that being faithful to him includes being faithful to the people he was faithful to. Faithfulness to Jesus means standing in solidarity with those in our day who are discriminated against and marginalized as the Jesus we see in the gospels stood in solidarity with his marginalized peers.

Will this faithfulness come with accusations? Will we, like Jesus, also be accused of doing the work of Beelzebul? Quite possibly.

I appreciate Edersheim’s comments on what Beelzebul meant.

“This charge, brought of course by the Pharisaic party of Jerusalem, had a double significance . . . We almost seem to hear the coarse Rabbinic witticism in its play on the word Beelzebul. For Zebhul (Hebrew) means in Rabbinic language, not any ordinary dwelling, but specifically the Temple, and Beel-Zebul would be the Master of the Temple. On the other hand, Zibbul (Hebrew) means sacrificing to idols; and hence Beel-zebul would, in that sense, be equivalent to lord or chief of idolatrous sacrificing – the worst and chiefest of demons, who presided over, and incited to, idolatry.” (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah)

Edersheim connects the name Beelzebul to Jesus’s activity at Jerusalem’s temple. Where I part ways with Edersheim is that I see Jesus’s temple protest as being much more economic and not just religious. Jesus was protesting an economically exploitative system of which the Temple had become the center.

Don’t miss that calling Jesus Beelzebul (the “chiefest of demons”) was a response to his standing up to the status quo religiously legitimizing the subjugation and marginalization of a certain sector of society. When your choices align with this type of action, people today might call you the chiefest of demons too.

Last week I mentioned a public hearing on a nondiscrimination ordinance in my town. At the hearing, I introduced myself as a husband, father, and director of a faith-based nonprofit in West Virginia. It was the “faith-based” part of my statement that some Christians in favor of discrimination latched on to. Those watching the hearing at home later told me that in one group’s live streaming video, the commentator referred to me as a traitor, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and lastly “the devil.” Jesus’ words in Matthew are quite on point.

Losing much, but gaining much as well. 

Over the last two years, I have lost much. I have also gained much. I used to preach about the love of a God in a way that anesthetized consciences and made my audiences passive about those who were being hurt. I regret that.

My path changed as I began to listen. Choosing to listen was not an intellectual choice; it was an intuition based on empathy. Others shared their hurt with me, and I chose to hear them. When we encounter the pain of others, pain that a system that benefits us causes, we have choices to make. We can choose to make excuses or blame the victims. We can choose to justify the way things are, as if change is not possible. Or we can stop and choose instead to listen, to be humble, and to be honest.

My personal “disciples are like their teachers” journey, began for me two years ago with a post on Facebook about those who self-identify as LGBTQ. Today, after a lot more listening, I would say things differently, but this is where my most recent journey began.

I initially lost a lot of friends over that statement, and this ministry also lost a substantial amount of support from readers and donors. Two years on, we have almost recovered from those losses, and I have also gained new friends. These new friends are some of the most beautiful people that I had no idea shared this rock with me, and yet I still miss my old friends.

I haven’t and couldn’t “replace” my old friends, and wish that they would also choose a posture of listening. As my circle of friends has gotten larger, I often wish it still included some of the people who used to love me and my work. I’m learning that they may have liked what I said or how I made them feel, but they weren’t able to grow with me.

Where I stand today is where any student eventually stands: at the choice to focus on what I understand Jesus of Nazareth taught and to promote and apply those same things in my life. I’m not trying to simply make people feel good. Rather I’m now working with others to make our world a safer, more compassionate world for us all, to make our world a place where people take care of people and only Love reigns. 

Peter Maurin co-founded The Catholic Worker with Dorothy Day, and wrote in 1936: “I want a change, and a radical change. I want a change from an acquisitive society to a functional society, from a society of go-getters to a society of go-givers.”

And I’m grateful I’ve found a community of friends who are working toward the same goals. We don’t always answer some of the smaller questions the same way, but on the big ticket items, we are teammates. I’ve only gained this community by becoming more like “the Teacher.” It is exponentially more rewarding and satisfying.

It was sometimes very scary to watch old friends change their opinions about me, sometimes publicly. But much happened in addition to that too. Jesus said that unless the seed falls into the ground and dies, it can’t produce fruit. Death is necessary for resurrection. One of my favorite quotations from James Perkinson is from his book White Theology: “A theologian—speaking of resurrection, in a body not bearing the scars of their own ‘crucifixion’? Impossible!”

To be like our teacher, Jesus, in rising to life means embracing the things that our teacher taught and the ill treatment that comes from people pushing back against those teachings as well.

So for all who have suffered push-back from teaching or living the values and ethics you have learned from Jesus of Nazareth:

A disciple is not superior to one’s teacher. It is enough for the disciple that he [or she] become‚ like his [or her] teacher. (Q 6:40)

HeartGroup Application

  1. This week, as a group, make two lists. First list the positive ways you hope to become like the Jesus of the Jesus story. On the second list, write out some negative ways you might become like Jesus. These could be similarities you would not necessarily want but that would also come with the more positive parallels.
  2. Discuss as a group whether the items on the two lists can be separated and ways in which you don’t think they can. Your answers may vary.
  3. Choose one of the similarities from the first list to lean into this coming week, knowing that it may produce a similarity from the second list.

Above all, keep living in love, till the only world that remains is a world where only love reigns.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week .

 


 

1. Faulkner, Carol. Lucretia Mott’s Heresy: Abolition and Women’s Rights in Nineteenth-Century America (p. 43)

The Blind Leading the Blind

by Herb Montgomery

The Blind Leading the Blind by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Blind Leading the Blind by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Can a blind person show the way to a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? (Q 6:39)

Luke 6:39: “He also told them this parable: ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?’

Matthew 15:14: “Leave  them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Gospel of Thomas 34: Jesus says: “If a blind person leads a blind person, both will fall into a pit.”

The earliest record of a saying like the one we’re considering today is more than 200 years older than the time of Jesus:

Abiding in the midst of ignorance, thinking themselves wise and learned, fools go aimlessly hither and thither, like blind led by the blind. (Katha Upanishad; The Upanishads written between 800 BCE-200 BCE.) [1]

Two other early references to this metaphor appear in North India and Rome during the first century BCE. In North India, the Buddhist Pali Canon recorded an oral tradition story in 29 BCE:

Suppose there were a row of blind men, each holding on to the one in front of him: the first one doesn’t see, the middle one doesn’t see, the last one doesn’t see. In the same way, the statement of the Brahmans turns out to be a row of blind men, as it were: the first one doesn’t see, the middle one doesn’t see, the last one doesn’t see. (Canki Sutta) [2]

In Rome, a similar phrase is found in the writings of Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace), a leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus, who lived from 65 BCE to 8 BCE:

Caecus caeco dux” [“the blind leader of the blind”]. Epistles 1.17.3-4

The Jewish community that treasured the sayings of Jesus in Sayings Gospel Q included this metaphor as one Jesus used. We’ll look at Luke’s and Matthew’s versions of this saying in just a moment.

First, Jesus wasn’t talking about physical vision.  He was talking about perception, ignorance, and an unwillingness to learn, and the danger this becomes when one is in a position of influence. I’ve experienced this personally this year. In my small town of Lewisburg and statewide here in West Virginia, I’ve witnessed ignorant leaders influencing the masses that follow them, inciting them to be afraid of those they are unwilling to genuinely “see” for who they are.

At the end of last year, our local city council began the process of updating the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. Lewisburg’s nondiscrimination ordinance already included discrimination based on race, gender, sex, and religion. The city felt the need to also include gender identification and sexual orientation, to broaden the current nondiscrimination ordinance to include members of the LGBTQ community. This effort came when a coal miner with over a decade of employment was hazed, vehicle vandalized, and fired after getting married when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last summer. In West Virginia, a person can be evicted from their housing or fired from their job because of their orientation.

During the campaign to change this ordinance, one of the council members asked my wife and me, “Every person is somebody’s child. How would you like your child to be treated?” Regardless of what differences may exist among people, everyone should have a fair chance to qualify for work, to provide for themselves, and have a safe roof over their head at night. My family believes that, and not just for our own children.

Not long after that conversation, a local minister of the largest Baptist church in Lewisburg began to incite his congregation to fear. Choosing not to perceive members of the LGBTQ community for who they are, he began a campaign of dehumanization and mischaracterization. Out-of-town lobbyists we invited, rallies were held, signs were placed all over town. The message, like Seth Brundle’s in the 1986 horror film The Fly was, “Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.” Some of the most moral, ethically upstanding people I know belong to our local LGBTQ community, so the minister’s campaign was nothing short of slander. But the folks here in small town West Virginia don’t have the exposure or education to be able to “see” people unlike them for themselves. This was a classic example of the blind leading the blind.”

Despite that rampant misinformation, in February of this year, our city council unanimously voted to update our city’s nondiscrimination policy. I’m also happy to say that it has been over a month now in our sleepy little town and the world has not come to an end.

After this decision though, many of the people who were working locally to incite fear and misinformation moved their effort to thestate level to try to undo the local vote. Lobbyists got legislators to introduce a new bill that was a West Virginia version of the “religious freedom” bills that have been popping up all over the U.S. Over and over again, those responsible for this bill denied their bill was connected to the discrimination ordinance but was simply designed to “restore” religious freedom they claimed had been lost (yet they could not show where or how).

This new bill passed in the state House but was voted down in the Senate. What made the difference? The Senate amended the bill to state that its provisions could not be used to undermine nondiscrimination ordinances in the name of religious liberty. Legislators then dropped the bill, proving that it had nothing to do with religious liberty, but was rather designed to give people a legal loop hole for continuing discrimination against others in the name of their  “sincerely held religious belief.”

Yes, each person should be free in matters between themselves and their God, with at least one exception. When one’s sincerely held religious beliefs endanger another human being, one is never free to practice those beliefs. Once, child sacrifice was a sincerely held religious belief. For some people, racism is still a sincerely held religious belief. Subjugation of women is a sincerely held religious belief, and homophobia and heterosexism are also sincerely held religious beliefs.

Religion has done good. And religion has done great harm. We must encourage the good while we limit the harm. The freedom to practice what one believes is a value that must be held subject to the greater value of “do no harm to one’s neighbor.” Anyone our religious beliefs would endanger has the right to be protected from our sincerely held religious beliefs. While we possess freedom of religion, they also possess the right to live in freedom from our religion.

So what does this have to do with the blind leading the blind?

I took a day to go and visit my state capitol and speak directly with my local representatives in both the House and the Senate about our religious freedom bill. What I was overwhelmed with as I left that day, beside disillusionment of the system, was how “blind” two of my three local representatives had been to understanding what was really behind this bill. Only one of the three understood. The truth did eventually come out, but in the meantime, the depth of ignorance and lack of exposure of my local and state leaders left me speechless.

In both secular civil governance and religious faith and worship, the metaphor of the blind leading the blind is, at times, overwhelmingly appropriate.

Now, there are plenty of instances in first-century Palestine where Jesus could have applied this metaphor.

  • The faithful, radical Zealots who felt the only way to liberate Palestine from Roman domination was through violence.
  • The Jerusalem-centered aristocracy who, in order to preserve their own place in society, copted the Temple to add religious legitimacy to Rome’s imperialism.
  • The wealthy elite who failed to share their surplus with the poor and instead used their capital to exploit the poor and make greater wealth.
  • The group of Pharisees and Sanhedrin members who subscribed to the teachings of the school of Shammai, and who not only drew strict lines between Jew and Gentile but also drew lines between themselves and other Jewish people they perceived as not orthodox enough.

How do Matthew and Luke show Jesus using this parable?

Luke includes this as one of Jesus’s sayings in the body of teachings scholars call The Sermon on the Plain.

He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher. (Luke 6:39-40)

Matthew does something quite different, and his use of the saying begins with Mark’s underlying narrative.

In Mark 7, Jesus contrasts physical “defilement” with ritual “defilement.” The author of text mistakenly claims that “all the Jews” do not eat without first washing their hands. This is historically untrue, and the later Matthew and Luke, knowing this to be untrue, correct the error by leaving it out. (Compare Mark 7, Matthew 15, and Luke 11:37-41) In fact, among the Pharisees, only Pharisees of the school of Shammai would have washed their hands before eating, and only the priests (according to both Hillel and Shammai) were required to wash their hands before eat their food. That is, the rest of the people who were not priests were not legally required to wash their hands. But the stricter Pharisees chose to conduct themselves like the priests, believing that they also held a scholarly position in Jerusalem’s religious hierarchy. So it was not a requirement for all Jews during Jesus’s time.

By refusing to wash his hands in the presence of the Pharisees, Jesus was making a political statement. I believe he was aligning himself with the “common” people of his day as opposed to the religious “elite.” In all three gospels, Jesus turns the discussion from washing hands to the religiously-justified oppression of the poor by the wealthy, religious elite of his day. As we’ve discussed in previous weeks, the religious elite included the priests and some wealthy Pharisees.

This is where our saying from Matthew comes in this week:

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15.12-14)

The context of this saying in our most Jewish gospel is Jesus’s preferential option for the poor, the common people, and even those judged as unorthodox.

We can pair this week’s metaphor, “blindness,” to the one we discussed last week, “deafness.” The inability or unwillingness to listen to the stories of those whose experience is different than your own is what these metaphors are describing. Could it be that the cure for socio-political “blindness” is using our ears to listen to the stories of those unlike ourselves? By listening, our eyes can be opened and we can begin to “hear with our ears” “see with our eyes” and “understand with our hearts” and our blindness can be “healed.” (Compare Isaiah 6:10; Matthew 13:14-17; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40.)

I believe that those who desire to follow the teachings of the 1st century Jewish Jesus of Nazareth must learn to listen to each other. Especially, we must learn to listen to those who, as in Jesus’s time, are presently being marginalized and subjugated by social structures of privilege.

We must learn to stop debating about people who are being oppressed by the status quo, and begin listening to them instead. Those interested in leaning into this exercise of listening, consider beginning with listening to the experience of people of color. There are other demographics that you could start with, but this would be an excellent first step. Three books that I can recommend to get you started on your journey of listening are:

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone

God of the Oppressed by James H. Cone

A Black Liberation Theology (Fortieth Anniversary Edition) by James H. Cone

As we use our ears, our eyes become opened. The cure for healing our eyes is in letting others have our ears and thereby access our hearts.

In the words of the Jesus of Sayings Gospel Q:

Can a blind person show the way to a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? (Q 6:39)

HeartGroup Application

One of the purposes of HeartGroups is to facilitate a space where we can begin to learn how to listen to each other. Yet even this is not enough. Too often the groups we listen to are the ones we most identify with. In other words, we listen to people who are most like ourselves. This can create a ideological feedback loop that becomes precious little more than philosophical inbreeding. The type of listening that cures our blindness is when we listen to those who are unlike us, especially those harmed by the way things are.

This week, I invite your HeartGroups to:

  1. Together, watch the recently released film Enough Room at the Table. You can access the film here. It will only cost your group $0.99 to watch together. That’s unbelievably affordable.
  2. Discuss with your group, after watching the film, how your group could begin taking steps to become more diverse. List the steps you discuss.
  3. Pick one item on your list to practice.

Thank you for joining us this week. We’ll continue with Sayings Gospel Q next week.

Until then, keep living in love, till the only world that remains is a world where only love reigns.

I love each of you dearly.

I’ll see you next week.

  1. Juan Mascaró. The Upanishads (Penguin Classics, 1965) p. 58
  2. Canki Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 95), translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu