Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pharisees: Blind Leading the Blind

Who were the “blind guides”? Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:24)

Jesus is often presented in contrast to the religious leaders of his day. The Pharisees, a prominent Jewish sect, are frequently his antagonists. The New Testament presents the Pharisees as rigidly enforcing the letter of the law and Jesus living by its Spirit. As the Pharisees were in a position of leadership, Jesus referred to them unflatteringly as “blind guides” (Matthew 15:14, 23:16, 24). In the latter references, the scribes are grouped with the Pharisees.

The idiom of the blind leading the blind does not originate with Jesus, though the English expression likely comes from the King James Version’s translation of Jesus’ words. The Katha Upanishad, a Hindu text written hundreds of years before Christ, also uses the saying. It reads, “Abiding in the midst of ignorance, thinking themselves wise and learned, fools go aimlessly hither and thither, like blind led by the blind.” The metaphor of the blind leading the blind has come to speak of any leader who knows no more about her mission than her charges.

The only Biblical instances where “blind guides” have a specific point of reference occur in the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 15:14, 23:16, 24). In Luke, Jesus presents the term “blind guides” in the “Sermon on the Plain” but uses it in general terms (Luke 6:39). The first time Jesus uses the expression to brand his critics transpires in a private session with his disciples (Matthew 15:12-14) but the second time it appears, he makes the claim public (Matthew 23:1-32).

Jesus never uses the word “blind” in relation to someone with a physical condition, but always to describe his adversaries’ spiritual predicament. Jesus emphasizes this in a series of woes in his last discourse in Matthew (Matthew 23: 16, 17, 19, 24, 26). In John, the Pharisees ask sarcastically if Jesus considers them blind. He responds, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains (John 9:41, NASB).”

Have you ever seen a group or organization where the blind were leading the blind? What did the Pharisees not see that made Jesus label them as “blind”?

Jesus openly criticizes the religious leaders of his time. He viewed the religious experts’ role as that of a guide. Guides are not above reproach.

How do you view the role of ministers? If you had to compare a minister’s job to one thing, what would it be? Do you perceive any modern religious officials to be blind guides?

“Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” - Sri Lankan evangelist D.T. Niles (1908-1970)

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