A commuter plane landed at a small connection airport in Tamworth, Australia. The flight attendant explained that passengers could get off the aircraft if they wanted, as the plane would re-board and resume its flight in about an hour. Everyone disembarked to take advantage of the break except for one man who was obviously blind. He wore dark glasses; had a long white cane with the red markings; and in the seat beside him was his service dog. This particular passenger made this trip often, apparently, as the flight crew knew him by name.
“Keith, we’re in Tamworth. Would you like to get off the plane and stretch your legs, mate?” the pilot asked him. “No thank you,” came the answer, “but my dog could take a walk.” The pilot was happy to oblige. So here is this bustling little airport with scores of people crowding about this particular gate. The jetway door opens, and out steps the fully uniformed pilot, wearing his dark aviator glasses, and accompanied by a seeing-eye dog. Passengers began to scatter – trying not only to change planes – but to find a bus to complete their trips if possible!
Intuitively, we understand the dangers of following “blind guides,” and we know to avoid them, for as the proverb goes, both leader and follower will “fall into the ditch.” We should understand these dangers, as the proverb about “the blind leading the blind” is almost as old as written literature. The warning came into the Christian lexicon by way of Jesus.
Jesus first used the phrase in Matthew 15 where he admonishes his followers to be wary of religion’s leaders. He spoke of these leaders’ staunch commitment to tradition, and how that commitment led to hypocrisy rather than compassion or sincerity. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God,” Jesus said, quoting the prophet Isaiah. Then, with the priests, preachers, pastors, and parsons foaming at the mouth and deeply offended, he let the hammer fall: “They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they both fall into a ditch.”
In one of the more ironic moves in history, Jesus, who would come to be regarded as the founder of the world’s largest “religion,” never gave high marks to the religious community. He regarded such systems as dangerous – to be avoided – as they could interfere with, not assist in one’s journey to know God; they could put one’s faith in the ditch.
So, are we contemporary followers of Jesus to abandon our churches? Not necessarily, but any religious leader who does not lead with the words, way, and spirit of Jesus must be viewed as a hazard, not a helper. What is this required ethos of Jesus? “Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself.” If someone is peddling you something else, take the bus.