And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
The Qumran sect, the Essenes, from which the Dead Sea Scrolls came, have interesting contextual background to this text. They rose up as a sect, and then, one of the scrolls says, they were groping around blindly for twenty years, until a “teacher of righteousness” arose to show them the way.
Perhaps Jesus was referencing the many claimants to the messianic role of “teacher of righteousness.” Perhaps He was critiquing them. How many “teachers of righteousness” have risen up, pretending a righteousness that they themselves could not have, only to find themselves in a ditch at the end of their lives, like everyone before them? How many Pharisees and scribes claimed to be teachers of righteousness for others?
It wasn’t so much that they were corrupt people who did one thing but taught everything else another thing. It’s that they were claiming to be teachers of righteousness when they themselves had no clue what righteousness meant. No one did!
Keep in mind a hypocrite is not someone who says one thing and does another. A hypocrite is an actor, or pretender. So, the teacher of righteousness claiming to show the way of righteousness for others is not a hypocrite because he teaches one thing while doing another, or not living up to his own teaching. The teacher of righteousness is a hypocrite because he’s pretending to a righteousness that he himself does not possess or understand.
Therefore both he and his hearers fall into a ditch. Like, the ditch of the grave. Or the ditch of false doctrine.
Jesus is a different teacher of righteousness. His righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. He has no planks in His eyes, because He is righteous and righteousness itself. He is perfect. Therefore He can teach others without any pretending.
And what does He teach others? To not judge, condemn; to have mercy, to give, and to forgive. That’s how every disciple will be like His teacher. And the teacher, who can see clearly, because He’s sinless, will lead His followers away from the ditch of death.
He fulfills what He Himself taught. “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom.” And again, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things.”
So how do we follow what He teaches? Is He teaching ironically, in the sense of, “no one can ever get that plank out of their own eye, so best just to work on yourself your whole life”? This would be an odd interpretation, given how the goal of the Christian life isn’t the some self-improvement plan, but salvation.
Rather, if we would be like our teacher, we would also be plank-less. Well, that’s exactly what He makes us through our justification, by the forgiveness of sins. How do we get to that point? By repenting, confessing our sins, and turning to Christ for forgiveness. He cleanses us from our sins, so that we are plank-less. And speck-less! Isn’t that exactly what He teaches here? Forgive, don’t condemn, don’t judge, give from abundance, have mercy?
And teaching that, we are no hypocrites, not pretending to anything or acting anything. We don’t act righteous, or pretend to be righteous. We are given Another’s righteousness, and have every right to teach others that same way. And what way is that? Repent of your sins and turn to Christ!
Some would stop us at the “repent of your sins” part and say, “Don’t judge me! Take the plank out of your own eye first before you judge me!”
To which we can say, “You’re absolutely right. I had a huge plank in my eye. I couldn’t see anything. I was a blind teacher of the blind as I tried to teach others how to act righteously. But I was just a pretender, an actor. But now, Christ has removed that plank by forgiving me all my sins. I can see clearly. And I can see what must happen for you to be without that speck (and it is a speck, because no matter what sins you have, compared to mine they are minimal). Here is what you must do. Repent of your sin and turn to Christ.
“And if you would say I’m judging you because of your speck, I appeal to Christ. He’s the one that calls it a speck. Because Christ here isn’t teaching you there is no standard of judgment. He’s rather teaching us to use the standard of judgment as He Himself has, mercifully, not condemning, not judging, giving, and forgiving.”
Because we can’t not condemn what is not first condemnable. We can’t give what is already claimed. We can’t forgive what is not confessed. We can’t not judge what is not first judge-worthy. We can’t be merciful for one who asks for no mercy, not seeing the need for it.