The Word in the Wings

The Word in the Wings  > Oikia: taught and transformed

Oikia: taught and transformed

By: KAYA WEAVER

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’s “Sermon on the Plain” includes a series of images instructing his listeners in how to be good disciples. Jesus’s concluding image in this passage, the parable of the wise and foolish builders, is the inspiration for Glorify Dance Theatre’s short ballet Oikia, which they’ve been performing for preschool audiences throughout the fall. (Read last week’s post to see company artist Audrey Hammit’s reflections on the parable and the ballet.) When this parable is considered together with the others preceding it, the images dynamically represent the choices and consequences involved in discipleship.

In Luke 6 Jesus teaches,

 

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 

38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap, for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

 

The first image Jesus describes is “a good measure,” a vessel filled completely, ensuring no gaps, and even overflowing. The descriptors “pressed down” and “shaken together” suggest a fair measurement, not cheating or stingy. “Running over” goes even beyond fairness to the point of abundant generosity. Jesus uses this image to show his listeners that if they want to receive fairness and generosity, they should first be fair and generous toward others. It’s all too easy to see ourselves as the respondents in this transaction: if someone has acted unjustly toward us, don’t they deserve to be cheated in return? But Jesus tells his disciples not to judge or condemn, but to forgive and give. The image he describes points out that we can set the standard by initiating with fairness and generosity rather than paying back what we judge people deserve. After all, God offers generosity to humanity even when we fail to trust and love God.

 

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 every disciple 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.”

 

The next image Jesus describes is of a blind person attempting to guide another blind person, leading them into danger since the leader is no more able than the follower to see where the pitfall lies. This image leads into a discussion of the relationship between a teacher and their disciple. What qualifies a disciple to “be like the teacher” and lead others?

Extending the parable of blindness, Jesus describes two people who are visually impaired by obstructions that could be removed from their eyes, allowing them to see again. Much as one couldn’t lead the other without the danger of dragging them into a pit that neither can see, one of these visually impaired people isn’t prepared to remove what’s blocking the other’s vision since helping requires clear vision. In fact, how can the presumed helper even trust their own obstructed vision to see that their neighbor truly has a problem? Before judging their neighbor’s situation, the person must assess their own vision and find out whether their perception matches reality. If not, they must clear their own vision before trying to clear someone else’s.

But in Jesus’s description, the first person doesn’t notice the log in their own eye. If they’re unaware of it, how can they remove it? Is there someone who does see clearly enough to help? Perhaps this is the teacher: the one with clear enough vision to judge rightly and help others see truly. In this parable, vision could represent wisdom and understanding. With the teacher’s instruction, the disciples can learn enough to understand the world through the teacher’s wisdom and begin teaching others.

 

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. For people do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes 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.

 

With the next image, Jesus refers to trees and their fruit, noting that the type of fruit a tree bears–good or bad, figs or thorns–undeniably reflects the type of tree it is. Jesus uses this image to show that, just as a tree’s good produce shows that it is healthy inside–or its figs show that it is a fig tree and not a thornbush–the good words and deeds that a person produces show that they have stored up good things in their heart and mind. The earlier image of “a good measure” shows that the fairness and generosity a person offers will be offered back to them; this image illustrates the inverse: that the good or bad things a person takes in will overflow for them to offer to others. It’s a cycle, either virtuous or vicious, as inputs and outputs influence each other. Yet Jesus’s images suggest that a person can break the cycle at either point, choosing to give and forgive with a generous measure, and choosing to hold onto values and ideas that are life-giving, storing up good things to put forth for others.

 

46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? 

47 I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. 

48 That one is like a man building a house who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built. 

49 But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it quickly collapsed, and great was the ruin of that house.”

 

Jesus’s final image shows the contrast between a true disciple who learns from the teacher and one who hears the teaching but doesn’t follow the teacher. In the parable, both builders hear the words and know that a foundation can be built, but only one does the hard work of digging down to the rock and laying that foundation before building his house. The unrealized idea of a foundation isn’t enough to keep the other builder’s house standing when the flood comes. 

Hearing but not acting is like building without a foundation, or like trying to clear someone else’s vision without clearing your own: these approaches lead to danger and destruction for oneself and for others. But a disciple who listens to the teacher and lets the teacher transform them, removing obstructions from their vision and changing their approach to building, has life on the other side of the chaotic flood.

In Oikia, dancers embody the images of the two builders and the chaotic flood waters, and they use set pieces and props to show the outcome for each builder. At the end of their rendition of Jesus’s parable, when the foolish builder has lost her foundation-less house, the wise builder invites her to shelter in her sturdy house with its foundation on the rock. Being a disciple of Jesus requires difficult choices and intentional effort, and above all it requires a humble willingness to let Jesus teach us and transform us to be more like him. Through Jesus’s teaching and transformation of our thoughts and actions, we receive the treasure of life to store up in our hearts, letting it overflow to others.

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Scripture quotations in this post are from the New Revised Standard Version Updated Edition.

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