We are easily influenced. It is a feature of humanity (and not a bug) that we learn best by example, by imitation. We are natural imitators and thrive on a combination of formal instruction and observable example. It is little wonder then that we cast about for teachers, for mentors, for people who can influence us, people we can imitate. All the while we know that we must find truthful and trustworthy influencers. With this in mind, we’d do well to hear Jesus’s back-to-back warnings about the power and perils of influence in Luke 6.
His first warning comes in the form of a miniature parable. “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit” (Luke 6:39)? Here we are to picture a blind man who needs to travel from one place to another. There were no guide dogs in Jesus’s day, no white canes, no sidewalks. The roads were unpaved and often scarred by holes and ruts. It was not easy to be blind and it was not possible to be independent and blind. This blind man needs assistance if he is to travel safely, so he cries out for help, then hears a friendly voice that replies, “I’ll help you.” So he takes the arm of this friendly stranger, and off he goes, not realizing that he has taken the arm of another blind man. No sooner have they set out than they stumble upon a pit and plunge in. “Can a blind man lead a blind man?” The answer is no, not if he wants to travel safely and arrive at his destination.
Jesus’s second warning comes in the following verse. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). Today we learn by buying books and watching tutorials and listening to podcasts. But in that day the options were far more limited. If you wanted to be a learner, you needed to find a teacher. You needed to deliberately place yourself under the influence of a rabbi. You would follow him, knowing that the more you were with him, the more you would become like him. In fact, you knew you had been fully trained when you were fully like him. You would know everything he knows and behave just like he behaves. You would be a full-on imitator of this influencer. Naturally, then, you would want to be very careful that you chose a very good teacher.
But, of course, some people chose bad teachers. They followed bad guides. Jesus referred to the religious leaders of his own day as “blind guides” (Matthew 23:16). They were the blind leading the blind straight into the pit, straight into hell. He rebuked these same religious leaders for calling others to follow them, but then making them twice as much children of hell as themselves (Matthew 23:15). The people of Jesus’s day were suffering under the influence of untrustworthy teachers, spiritually-blind guides. They were following bad teachers and, not surprisingly, becoming bad themselves. Little wonder, then, that Jesus said, “follow me!” Little wonder, then, that he called them to follow him as the light of the world, as the one who gives sight to the blind, as the one who could safely guide them along the narrow path that leads to life.
Today, too, Jesus calls each of us to follow him. And wrapped up in the call to follow him is the call to follow those who are like him. We imitate Jesus by imitating people who are like Jesus. We are influenced by Jesus by being influenced by people who have themselves been influenced by Jesus. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” said Paul (1 Corinthians 11:1).
In Jesus’s day students would become followers of a teacher they encountered in real life, someone they followed both literally and figuratively, someone they knew and were known by. Surely, then, they took very seriously the decision of whom they would follow. Today many of our influencers are people we may never know and who may never know us, and we take less seriously the decision of whom we will follow. We follow their books, their videos, their blogs. That’s well and good as far as it goes. But we do need to be aware that what was true then remains true now—a blind guide will lead his followers into peril and a student will become like his teacher. The influenced will become like the influencer in his convictions and in his character, in his beliefs and in his actions.
The application is obvious, isn’t it? We have the sober and sobering responsibility to be careful—so very careful—about who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we allow to influence us. For bit by bit, day by day, sermon by sermon, podcast by podcast, we will come to resemble the people we follow. For good or for ill, we will imitate them until we are like them.