You hear it often said that one picture is worth a thousand words and in today’s second reading we have some of Jesus’ most vivid word-sketches.
Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?
A disciple is not above his teacher, but every one when he is fully taught will be like his teacher.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit.
For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.
But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.
These pictures that Jesus is painting my seam strange to us, but each picture has a serious point and painting a picture of a story is one way of getting people to remember it.
Each story is about rival teachings, rival visions of the kingdom of God, about solutions which leave the depths of the problem untouched.
They applied to the rival teachings in Jesus’ day, but apply just as well to some of today’s theories about what human life should be like.
The sequence begins with the riddle about the blind leading the blind.
Jesus is telling us to beware of other teachers which look as though they’re offering guidance, but will in fact put you all in the ditch.
The next saying seems to be a comment on the point that students can not advance beyond their teachers.
He is telling them that there is no point studying with the Pharisees, as all you will be at the end of the day is another Pharisee.
Jesus is challenging his hears to break out of the moulds they are being offered, and to come to the startling new way he is pioneering.
The next story is about the speck of dust in other person’s eye and the plank in his own it is a warning against a certain type of teaching.
As with the blind in the previous saying, the question is, can you see clearly enough to lead, let alone criticize, someone else.
What people criticize in others is frequently, though not always, what they are subconsciously aware of or afraid of in themselves.
The speck and the plank are a classic case of what psychologists call projection.
The person knows there’s something seriously wrong with his or her own eye, so they try to avoid the problem by telling someone else there’s a tiny problem with theirs.
But how did the rival teaches in Jesus’ day fit this model?
Properly having so many rules and regulations, they were trying to fine tune their obedience to them down to the last possible detail, while missing the law’s major point.
They were trying to make Israel holier than thou as a way of separating their nation from other nations, but the point of the law and the prophets was to make Israel the light to the nations.
They were hunting for speaks in each other’s eyes with a magnifying glass, but could not see that there was a plank, a single massive disobedience in their own.
These pictures that Jesus was describing two thousand years ago continue to be applicable to situations even to day.
There are many churches where a huge fuss is made about small details, while the main point of the Gospel, and Christian witness in the world, is missed altogether.
There is nothing wrong with getting the small details in place and it is often correct to do so, so long as we do not forget the main point of the Gospel.
The point of it all, the point of being a Jew, of God’s call to Israel, of God’s call to every individual, is in fact to produce truly human beings.
Which brings me on to the story about the trees and fruit?
Moral reformation which leaves the heart untouched is about as useful as trying bunches of grapes on to a briar-bush.
Jesus is inviting his hearers to a way of life which is so completely new that it will need a change in their heart, and so bring about a change in their whole personality.
There seam to be many alternatives to Jesus’ invitation today, just as there were in Jesus time, but they do not touch the real problem, only Jesus can help us do that.
The final story is about a stern warning, about listening to true wisdom and not putting it into practice, is like building a house without foundations.
As sooner or later the floods will come and it will be apparent what sort of building you are living in.
Jesus’ contemporaries may have heard about the great building project of their day, the completion of the Temple in Jerusalem by Herod.
Certainly Luke makes it clear later on in his Gospel that the temple was under God’s judgment because its rulers had not obeyed Jesus’ call to a different way of obedience.
But the message applies to all sorts of people and situations.
One of the lasting achievements of Jesus was to tell such vivid and easily memorable stories that people of every age, and in every part of the world, can hear and understand them even today.
The question is, of course, are we today so keen on looking for specks in other people’s eyes that we can not see the planks in our own.
Do our plans and schemes look good on the outside but leave the heart untouched.
Are we building without a foundation?
As we ask those questions about ourselves we should be looking out in case we are lured into a trap by others.
Jesus’ radical offer of new and abundant life is so all-embracing and so all-demanding, that people try to find alternative ways.
But they must resist or the house will come down with a crash.