Jesus speaks grave words to his disciples on the need to avoid causing scandal, to be neither and obstacle to the little ones who believe in him nor to whomever works in favor of the human beings in his name, and certainly not to harm oneself.
Prior to this Gospel passage there appears the notion that upon not wanting to listen to, understand, or remember Christ’s words on his Passion there would be instead the worldly temptation to want to know who among the disciples was greatest. And today the same struggle gives way to another temptation: the overestimation of ecclesial membership, the “we” of the disciples who in the eyes of others become this impediment, even for those who do good works in the name of and love for Jesus.
When the disciple John makes mention that they ought to stop those casting out demons in Jesus’ name simply because they do not follow Jesus, Jesus responds: No! One shall not stop them! Membership in something good is not everything, rather doing what is right, and each will be recognized by his fruits and nothing else. Why pit ourselves against who does not follow us?
The liberation of individuals from the power of demons remained close to Jesus’ heart, whereas for his disciples, here, more important than the casting out of demons was the ecclesial “we”. No, says Jesus.
Jesus reiterates: “Whoever gives another water to drink in my name, because one is thirsty, he will not lose his reward.” The whoever here indicates someone who does not follow him, who is outside the ecclesial sphere.
To free others from demons, just as like satisfying thirst: this is what it means to be like Christ, the transparency of Christ’s life, the narration of the God of Israel. Here it seems that for Jesus his disciples belonging to him might need a drink of water according to the thirst and need implied by this statement. But the reward of which Jesus speaks is not for one’s thirst but for he who offers the drink of water, whomever he or she might be. Jesus seems to be saying: is not already enough that this person is not against you? What do you want?
Jesus urges, scolds, his disciples to not be a scandal for the little ones. “Woe to he who gives scandal to the little ones who believe, it is better that this one be killed.” Jesus touches on the heart of the gospels here, that the word of the cross is for each one of us: the sense of dying, even an inglorious death, and the senselessness of killing. Jesus calls us to trust in him so that we might be freed from the fear of our deaths, so that in this freedom we learn to love even if it means choosing to die rather than impede the human and spiritual life of another.
But the command to avoid causing scandal regards us as well. And here what is better than being scandalized is not the passive “to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around the neck” but an active violence that each person must exercise upon himself or herself. It is about the interior struggle. “If your hand, or your foot, if your eye leads you to scandal, cut it off and cast it aside. It is better for you to enter into life wounded and lame, without your eyes, rather than be thrown as a perfect whole into Gehenna.” This “as a whole” indicates our life preserved from everyone and everything at all cost, something that not only does not help us enter the Kingdom, but that might even hinder us from doing so. Jacob and his struggle with God, and not with his brother Esau is a picture of this, and he escapes the struggle crippled but blessed forever.
These words that invite us to seek and find in ourselves what causes scandal is an attempt to correct our instinct that is always tempted to do the opposite: to find the reason for our missteps in others and not in ourselves. Everything that hinders us, with the help of the Lord’s words, each one can cut off and cast aside on his own. Jesus has placed us in charge of ourselves, not of the others! Knowing that the Holy Spirit brings us to knowledge of our sins, of our own, it is instead the trick of the eye to make us see sin only in others and be people without mercy.
By the Sisters of Bose
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 18, 2020
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