In Luke 6:39-42 there is a string of Jesus’ parables that goes like this:
And he spoke to them this parable: “The blind is not able to lead the blind. Will they not fall into the pit together? The student is not above the teacher. But everyone who has been fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to someone, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you fail to see the 2x4 in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the 2x4 out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from someone else’s eye."
I used to think that the part about the student not being above the teacher was speaking to me as a student and meant that I would never be greater than those under whom I had studied. While this was somewhat disappointing, I took satisfaction that, in the future, my students would never be any better than me. Then I had a student who excelled way beyond what I could imagine and I could only hope to attain such heights.
But the passage is not really about students being forever in the shadow of their teachers. When read in context it is about what happens when students have teachers who are not well prepared or do not keep their focus on the mission. In context it is a double-sided warning to both teachers and students. Just as the blind will lead the blind into a pit so too an ill prepared teacher will lead students into an abyss. We should not accept inadequate teachers because as students we are constrained by the limitations of our teachers. It should be the hope and prayer of every teacher that our students will exceed us and that, like children, they will do us proud.
I must confess, however, that sometimes I forget the mission to which I have been called. Somehow the experiences of grad school, the process of tenure and the desire for peer recognition has caused me to forget my calling in life; that I am here because of the students. Sometimes I have even jokingly wished that the seminary could fulfill its mission without the students. If they would just send their money and stay home life would be much easier. But it is at that moment that I become a blind guide. And the students who study under me will never be any better than me. My job is to fully train my students and then they will become like me. That is, they will be driven to be the best woman or man they can be in their chosen career.
But teaching does not only take place in a classroom and it does not require an official title. All of us are actively engaged in teaching. This happens through the way we treat one another. When students see that we have respect for one another and when they realize, as we should, that everyone is an essential member of the team and that without them I cannot do my job. Jesus has some strong words for people who fail to understand this. He calls us not only blind guides but hypocrites. For you see, when we try to educate students, but are either blind or fail to recognize our own faults, we really are hindering our students. They will be no better than us and as a result society will never change.