Portable Commentary

27 February 2022

Thought for the day  
For many, it is seemingly possible to sleep-walk through life, to live on an entirely sentient level. Perhaps our current culture of distraction supports such superficial so-called living. Many, however, are dissatisfied and long for an awakening, a conversion, a transformation, for something more. Such a hunger of the heart is acknowledged in many religions and philosophies — Jesus’ teaching here could just as easily be on the lips of the Gautama Buddha. The difference for Christians is the grace of God in Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, it is all grace, grace upon grace as the Prologue of John puts it.

God of all our awakenings, we know that the journey inward is the journey home. Keep our hearts restless until we come to rest in you. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 6:39   He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Tree and Its Fruit

Luke 6:43   “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.

Initial observations
The images used here have become part of the popular memory of Jesus’ teaching. These few verses do take us to the heart of the matter.

Kind of writing
Our Gospel comes from the third section of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (6:17-49). Luke structures the sermon in three parts as follows: Luke 6:20-26 (6C), vv. 27-38 (7C) and vv. 39-49 (8C; the excerpt is vv. 39-45). Each section is indicated by Luke (vv. 20a, 27a and 39a). To complete the picture, the concluding verses have been added above.

The omitted verses function has a conclusion to the whole Sermon on the Plain, much the same way as the Sermon on the Mount ends in Matthew 7.

Old Testament background

Testing the heart
I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings. (Jer 17:10)
But I will punish you as your deeds deserve,’ says the Lord. ‘I will set fire to your palace; it will burn up everything around it.’” (Jer 21:14)

New Testament foreground

Hypocrite/hypocrisy in Luke

Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1)
You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12:56)
But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? (Luke 13:15)

Trees and fruit

Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers and sisters, or a vine produce figs? Neither can a salt water spring produce fresh water. (Jas 3:12)

Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians

None of these things escapes your notice, if you have perfect faith and love toward Jesus Christ. For these are the beginning and the end of life: faith is the beginning and love is the end, and the two, when they exist in unity, are God. Everything else that contributes to excellence follows from them. No one professing faith sins, nor does anyone possessing love hate. The tree is known by its fruit; thus those who profess to be Christ’s will be recognised by their actions. For the work is a matter not of what one promises now, but of persevering to the end in the power of faith. (Eph 14:1–2)

St Paul
Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God–which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2)

And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another. (Galatians 5:22–26)

Brief commentary
Verse 39 A link with the previous section is clear: no judging. Luke signals the start of the final section with a heading about Jesus telling a parable. It is likely that Luke has at least all three illustrations in mind. (Indeed, parabolic material continues until v. 49.) In Greek, the first question is formatted to trigger the answer “of course not”, while the second question is laid out to trigger the answer “obviously.” The image of the blind leading etc. is found in the culture. Cf. Philo of Alexandria’s less pity version: But if any persons, utterly disregarding the true wealth of nature, pursue instead the riches of vain opinions, relying on those riches which are blind instead of on those which are gifted with acute sight, and taking a guide for their road who is himself crippled, such men must of necessity fall down. (Virt 1:7) The imagery resonates with Jesus’ programme of recovery of sight to the blind: 4:18; 7:21–22; 18:35–43; cf. 14:13, 21. Philip, in the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, is the ideal, clear-sighted teacher who can help the blind (Acts 8:31).
Verse 40 Similar thoughts can be found elsewhere. For Luke, Jesus is the teacher and cannot be surpassed. Nevertheless, Luke inserts an adjective “fully qualified” (katērtismenos). The emphasis is not so much on matching the teacher’s knowledge bur rather on the formation and development of the disciple’s moral imagination. The adjective also connotes being restored to a former state of excellence. This accords well with the next example of the speck.
Verses 41-42 The illustrations here are borne by two rhetorical questions which require no answer. There must be some humour in the outlandish contrast between speck and a log! Again, the emphasis falls on the training and formation of the true disciple, attending to his/her own faults first of all. This is not a general educational or psychological principle; rather, Luke has in mind that the guidance needed is to be found precisely in the teaching of Jesus, the teaching par excellence. The new “seeing” involved takes in a range of reactions and realities such as perceptions, disposition of the heart and intentions of the mind. As Luke Timothy Johnson puts it: “character precedes action.” Who you are will determine what you do. In the interests of inclusive language, the NRSV uses the word “friend” here but the original has the word “brother” or “sister.” The Jerusalem Bible is more faithful here because Luke has in mind members of the one faith community.
The use of the word “hypocrite” elsewhere in Luke in instructive (see above). The root meaning of hypocrite is an actor, one who wears a mask.
Verse 43 The move from the carpenter’s shop to the farmer’s orchard is facilitated by a play of sounds in Greek: speck is karphos in Greek, while fruit is karpos. The illustration of the tree/fruit underlines the earlier observation about character preceding action. The whole point of the Sermon is to shape the inner person so that s/he may bear good fruit. Unlike the decorations on a Christmas tree, the fruits of the Christian life must grow from within.
Verse 44 Again, the outlandish contrasts seem to imply a smile. The argument has moved from quality of fruit to kind of fruit.
Verse 45 Each persons has a treasure within; what lies in that treasure becomes apparent in the way s/he acts.
Verse 46-49 The common image of the two ways concludes the Sermon on the Plain. Compare Psalm 1 or The Didache 1:1-6. The influential Letter of Barnabas puts it like this: There are two ways of teaching and power, one of light and one of darkness, and there is a great difference between these two ways. (Barn 18:1) The contrast of rock and sand may originally have referred to flash floods in the many wadis which lead down to the Jordan. It is more than evidently foolish to build your house on a dry river bed!!

Pointers for prayer
1. Can you remember an occasion when you were giving out about the behaviour of another person, and later realised you had some of the same fault yourself? Was that a wake-up call for you? Jesus tells us it is more constructive to correct our own faults, than complain about the faults of others.
2. If we want to help other people we need to have our feet on the ground, with a realistic awareness of our gifts and our limitations. Otherwise we will be impractical, like the blind leading the blind. What has helped you to be realistic about what you can and cannot do?
3. “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit.” This parable invites us to examine the motivation behind what we do. If our basic motivation is love, then our lives will bear good fruit. If love is absent from our lives then the fruits will be conflict, disharmony and abuse of people for our own selfish ends.

O God, our teacher and judge, hear our prayer as we gather at the table of your word.
Enrich our hearts with the goodness of your wisdom and renew us from within, that all our actions, all our words, may bear the fruit of your transforming grace.

We make our prayer through your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.