This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
New English Translation (NET)
Questions About the Greatest
18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a child, had him stand among them, 3 and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn around and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven! 4 Whoever then humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes a child like this in my name welcomes me.
6 “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea. 7 Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! It is necessary that stumbling blocks come, but woe to the person through whom they come. 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into fiery hell.
This passage rests on the use of the word which is translated as both “cause to sin and “stumbling block.” The latter is a literal translation referring to an instrument used to trip up an enemy and make him fall. There is a biblical warning against using one of these as a cruel joke on a blind person. The primary use of the word by Jesus appears to have been with reference to himself: his Way can make righteous people, such as Pharisees, stumble; that is, they find him an obstacle to faith rather than a help. In this context the word is often translated as “offence.” People take offence at Jesus, and turn against him. Jesus’ potential for being a “stumbling block” in this sense is integral to his ministry. It’s not accidental.
So how should we interpret its use here? Now it’s being used to describe people or personal habits which can cause a disciple to stumble in their faith. The little ones of verse 6 are no longer simply children but disciples who have become as children. Jesus way runs counter to the way of the world; this can put conventionally religious people off (as with Pharisees) or it can mean that those trying to follow the Way are “tripped up” by worldly people, by mockery, social exclusion, or even persecution.
Finally however, Jesus reveals that stumbling blocks can be presented from within the disciple’s own life! The bodily organs mentioned are symbols for habitual ways of perceiving or acting which are opposed to Jesus’ way. Jesus urges his followers to be utterly ruthless with these; they are to be excised. We are better without them. There should be no mercy for personal drives which bring us down or lead us astray. I’m not sure how this sits with current psychiatric practice, but it certainly runs counter to the popular view that we should respect all aspects of our own and others’ personalities. Jesus prescribes an immediate severity. Chop!
The human tendency to want power over others is treated by Jesus with this same severity. The disciples are faced with a child – a person with no power- and told to become like him. ( I have a private fantasy about what this child is thinking, e.g. “who’s this big idiot who thinks he can just use me as an object lesson?”). The command to “turn round” and receive the kingdom like a child, is maybe, the fundamental evangelical summons. It is the same as “being born from above” in John’s gospel. The turning round is the crucial movement of the soul which cuts off and leaves behind the compulsions that bind it to evil.
Jesus’ actions and words reported here show a sane, rigorous, radicalism: human beings, even disciples are not altogether nice people; they are subject to habits of thought and action which can destroy themselves and others. The call to trust God’s Way means “turning away from” or “cutting off” these habits in order that the whole person can be transformed. Such a transformation will make a person capable of welcoming a powerless child, and therefore also Jesus, and therefore also the One who sent Him.
SEE MY OTHER BLOG:
I might be wrong emmock2