Blind Leaders of the Blind
(Matthew 15:14)

A proverb is often a compressed parable easily expanded into the usual parable form. We now look at the story of the Blind Leaders. "Jesus answered... Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable" (Matt. 15:14,15). Jesus could have said something like this: "A certain blind man, who knew not that he could not see, said to another blind man, I will lead you. But as he did not see where the road turned, he fell into the ditch; and dragged in also his follower". But with greater directness of application he affirmed the Pharisees were blind leaders of blind men.

The immediate context concerns the corban law by which the Pharisees evaded duties to their parents and so made void one of the ten commandments. Jesus very severely condemns their casuistry, by which they put the doctrines of men in the place of God's law. The same saying occurs in another context in Luke 6:39, as part of the discourse which closely resembles the Sermon on the Mount of Matt. 5-7. This context in Luke's record, and the fact that it was spoken to the disciples, prevents the comfortable detached consideration of the saying which is possible in restricting its reference to the Pharisees. We may appreciate the application to others and endorse the judgment: but it is spoken also as a warning to all disciples. The object lesson of the one must be noted for the guidance of every follower of the Lord. It is a warning of the dangers of being leaders and teachers, which all teachers should take to heart. Luke records:

"And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" (6:39-41).

The connection of thought in Luke is that men should judge themselves before they judge others. Censoriousness is sternly reprobated. If anyone fails to examine self he is blind and, seeking to teach, is a blind leader. His disciples will rise no higher than the teacher, and when fully trained will yet reflect the master's faults. An additional reason for self examination is then given - a man with a grave fault should not correct a man with a smaller one. James echoes the warning of Jesus here: "My brethren, be not many masters (teachers), knowing that ye shall receive the greater condemnation" (3:1). The teacher is multiplied in the scholars, and one heretic becomes many: a good teacher of sound doctrine is the means of many rejoicing in truth. But that influence over others which a teacher possesses is the reason why he must bear greater responsibility. The earnest teacher and preacher shirks no toil to make sure that his words faithfully represent the teaching of the Word of God, that he may not know the shame of faulty workmanship (2 Tim. 2:15). All teachers do well to remember the warning of greater condemnation.

In the chapter of woes (Matt. 23) Jesus five times speaks of the Pharisees as blind. They were astute enough in argument but perverse in their ways; and a blindness of heart and mind had overtaken them. A man could swear by the temple, they said, and the oath did not bind: but if he swear by the gold of the temple, it was binding. Yet, as Jesus pointed out, the gold was sanctified by the temple. So with altar and sacrifice on the altar: the altar sanctified the gift, and an oath by the altar embraced both. Fools and blind! In the light of the trenchant exposure, how deserving the description! They tithed mint scrupulously - garden herbs of small value; but while it was right to tithe and weigh carefully the garnishings of the meal, yet the weightier matters of the law - which could not be weighed in scales - judgment, mercy, faith, were neglected. They were like a man pouring out a drink who must carefully strain the water lest a small insect be in it, and yet who swallows a camel- hair, hoofs and all - and does not know it. It is grotesque - grimly, humorously grotesque - and Jesus meant it so to be. They cleansed the crockery they used as a meal; but were unconcerned that the food they ate off that crockery had been obtained by craft and fraud. Careful of externals which are good in themselves and in their place, but not of vital moment, they yet were indifferent about the essential morality of their acts and thoughts. Blind Pharisees! How came they to be so blind? We learn something from the healing of the blind man (John 9). Jesus made clay and anointed his eyes therewith; and then sent the blind man to Siloam. Jesus can both make blind and give sight, as he said: "For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind". The Pharisees discerned something of the paradox and asked, "Are we blind also?" They claimed to have sight; very well, then they must accept the responsibility of seeing, and their sin remained (verses 29-40).

Jesus, by the act of giving sight, at once claimed to be and proved he was the Messiah." The blind receive their sight "was one of the evidences given to John in response to his question from prison: "Art thou he that should come? Or look we for another?" It was indeed good evidence to anyone who knew the messages of the prophets. "The Lord openeth the eyes of the blind" (Psa. 146:8); "the eyes of the blind shall be opened" (Isa. 35:5); God's servant had to "open the blind eyes" (42:7). But the prophet declared the nation had "unseeing eyes." They were "deaf" and "blind" (42:16,18).

With scorching irony he spoke of them as "the blind people that hath eyes" (43:8): and because of their iniquities and sins, their vanity and lying, their violence and blood shedding, the judgment came upon them and they walked in darkness. "We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes" (59:1-10). In them was fulfilled the prophecy of Zephaniah: "They shall walk like blind men, because they have sinned against the Lord" (1:17). The parable of the Blind Leaders was a terrible indictment, gravely made, and truly spoken. But what a lesson it contains!

From: Parables of the Messiah by John Carter