The Readings for the Memorial of St John Chrysostom
Friday in the 23rd week Tempus per Annum (C1)
Numquid potest caecus caecum ducere? nonne ambo in foveam cadunt? Non est discipulus super magistrum : perfectus autem omnis erit, si sit sicut magister ejus.
Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.
This is a parable, not a gnomic pronouncement. It the Latin it says, “Dicebat autem illis et similitudinem”, meaning he taught them a similitude. I used to read this passage as a comment on how we can’t be better than Jesus (our only teacher). Today, for some reason, I saw that the teacher/disciple thing was in parallel with the blind/blind thing.
A : B :: C : D
It’s a similitude.
It means we can’t pass on what we don’t have. This is the meaning of Original Sin. The Catechism says:
Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. (Para 405)
Adam lost his original holiness and justice, therefore, he cannot pass it along to his children. This passage in the Gospel, though, is not about the Fall. It’s about teachers: If I don’t have the fullness of the faith (if I’m not even willing to have it) then I can’t pass it on to you.
I struggle with this in leadership roles: at church, certainly, but also at work. This is not only a religious doctrine, but it’s true across the board. In fact, because it’s true across the board, it is also a religious doctrine. A politician who knows nothing about the law cannot pass along the correct information to his constituents – or refute lobbyists. A president who knows nothing about meteorology cannot draw on maps what he doesn’t have. A priest who rejects the teachings of the Church on human sexuality cannot be expected to pass along those teachings. Worse: having discovered that the teacher doesn’t know one thing, we may expect the teacher doesn’t know other things as well.
There’s another level of complication. Do you know about the humidity in NYC in the hot months? I do, after living there for 13 years. There was a ticker-tape parade for the “Desert Storm” heroes in 1991. I was watching the weather report the night before. The weatherman taped an 80% humidity marker on his blue screen and said, “Tomorrow will be nice, cool, and comfortable for the Parade of Heroes.” In other words, he lied. So, on top of issues with knowledge, the blind can be misled by people feeding them organic, free-range, grass-fed buffalo droppings. And you can fall out of that first paragraph up there into this, less honorable one very easily. A mistake plus wayward pride is the trump card in every hand, lately.
Some are blind because they cannot see and some are blind because they refuse to see.
And when the blind are led away from the truth they become convinced that their blind teacher knows it all.
Today we commemorate John Chrysostom. He fought against the pride and lying of the political leaders of his day – their lack of concern for the poor, their kowtowing to the rich and mighty, their lack of morality, their lack of ethics – that twice he was exiled. We have no such leaders today in the Catholic Church or in the Orthodox Church. The closest is Pope Francis, but even he will not call “cow pellets” on the leaders of the day. And if he dare speak too loudly, the rightists in the church call him a communist and say we can ignore him. His advisors, at least, seem to know more than other folks advisors. Or when he speaks in favor of tradition, the progressivists get all riled up. In the East the Russian Patriarch has been sleeping with the crown of Russia since Peter the Great, and even the mighty “ROCOR” now sleeps with a former KGB agent. The Arabs and the Greeks are wrapped up in their internecine wars and the westerners are along for the ride – buying their way into the hallways of Byzantine power.
We have no such leaders in the Church today. Blind guides of the blind.
I’m thankful we have Jesus. But if we’re not careful the powerful will try to lead us away.