I am still reflecting on an earlier post that outlined some of the dramatic findings that came out of the recently released “State of American Children” report. Most significant of all is this: 1 out of every 5 children in American lives in poverty.
As I finished reading the report, I began to reflect on a passage of Scripture that has left a deep mark on my life. I can’t find a single place in the Bible where Jesus says something harsher than these words:
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” (Matthew 18.1-9)
Part of this is unsurprising. When Jesus says that we should welcome children in his name, he is saying something that I expect to hear. He clearly had a bias towards little ones – it is through the eyes of a child that we most clearly see the kingdom of God, and he would often remind his disciples of that.
It’s what he says next that is quite unexpected, and which brings a chill to my bone. “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were drowned in the depths of the sea.”
The question begs to be asked: What could provoke the Prince of Peace to threaten perpetrators with as graphic of a warning as this? What could possibly make his blood boil to the point that he would flow right into a tongue-lashing that includes everything from a boulder tied around your neck to your eyes being gouged out? It is absolutely stunning to me.
I’ve asked myself that very question many times. In my quest to know and follow Jesus, I want to know what matters to him. And obviously this is at the top of the list.
I think the key to the whole passage is the word “stumble.” Jesus says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble…”
The Greek word translated as “stumble” is skandalizō, and that is the etymological root of our English word scandal.
One online dictionary defines scandal like this: A publicized incident that brings about disgrace or offends the moral sensibilities of society. It’s second definition is this: “A person, thing, or circumstance that ought to cause disgrace or outrage.”
I like combining those definitions to get an accurate picture. A scandal is something either disgraces our moral sensibilities or at least ought to disgrace them. It even adds the word outrage. You could take scandal to quite literally mean anything happening in society that should create a moral outrage.
If we use that definition of scandal, it gives a very clear window into what Jesus was saying here. What is it that should bring about disgrace or offend the moral sensibilities of society? Anything or anyone that causes little ones to stumble.
Should the reality that 1 out of 5 children in America live in poverty qualify as a scandal? Yes!!!!
I doubt that any of you who grew up around poverty would argue that. Nor do I think that any of you that have given your lives to becoming a support system for those in poverty would either.
I will eventually share some thoughts of how I think we can/should collectively respond to this reality, but it seems just as important that we first become collectively concerned about it.
A scandal is something that either disgraces our collective moral sensibilities, or at least ought to disgrace them.
The fact that one out of every five of our children faces a stacked deck towards fulfilling the life that God has designed them for ought to stir our collective conscience.