Exaggerate much? You know, in the last passage Jesus set a child in the midst of his disciples and said, whoever welcomes one of these little ones in my name welcomes me, and not just me, but also God the father. If that is not an invitation to evangelize the children, I don’t know what is.
But now he looks at it from the other side. Perhaps I should have named this reflection, “The Other Side,” because we get that twice.
Here, after encouraging us to be sure we evangelize the children, he gives as serious warning as was ever given, and it is about driving children away from Christ. Better to wear a millstone and be tossed into the sea. Better to cut your hand off, or cut off your foot, or pluck your eye out than cause one to stumble.
So is he suggesting we mutilate ourselves? No, not at all, though the Gnostics and some people in the Middle Ages sort of took it that way. So then what is he saying?
Let me ask you, how do children learn? Is it through our words? Well, some. But mostly isn’t it through our actions? Children learn most by observation. They watch us and imitate us, and as terrible as it may be, there is a reason women wake up one day and say, “My God, I sound just like my mother.” Children follow in our footsteps, and that includes our faith.
But what do they see in us?
Where are we headed with these feet of ours? Do we have our sights set on success and all the things of this world, or have we picked up our cross to follow after him? And what are we doing with these hands of ours? Are we helping those in need or helping ourselves to a bigger slice of pie? And our eyes, what are we focused on? Is it our work, our social networks, our need to just veg-out in front of the TV from time to time, or is it our children?
The number one complaint I hear from young people who refuse to go to church is that the church is full of hypocrites. It is not an unfair characterization. Sadly, many of our churches are hotbeds of gossip, slander, malice, evil intent, and most of all people who may feel some need on Sunday morning but think that hour gives them license Monday through Saturday to do as they please.
Jesus is saying if you are on the wrong journey, you would be better not taking to the road at all because the end of the wrong road is unpleasant, to say the least.
There is a second look at the “Other Side” in this passage, though most people won’t see it. Let me ask, what do we say? When there is something we strongly believe in, like our political candidate or our cause which might be anything from Animal rights to Zionism, what is it we say, especially in a moment of pique? “Those who are not for us are against us.” This is what we say, and what we mean. Either people agree with us or they are stupid morons who need to be straightened out.
But that is not what Jesus said. He said the opposite: those who are not against us are for us.
When we speak, we divide the world into two parts: those for us and everybody else. What Jesus said divides the world into three parts: for, against and the wishy-washy middle, and he said further that we should not concern ourselves with the wishy-washy. Many are lost, and we should be loving them to reach them, not counting them as enemies. And it is hard for a person who works in a Christian charity – soup kitchen, food bank, habitat, shelter, whatever – to then turn around and denigrate Christ.
Jesus said, it is hard for someone who participates in a miracle to then say bad about Jesus. The right word at the right time might bring that person into the fold. And that is what is important to Jesus. He wants to bring people in, out of the cold. He wil not force them, but he does not want to cut anyone off, and indeed he does not cut anyone off. The thing is, some people cut themselves off and hate all over Jesus. Jesus will not force them. Why? Because it only means something, it only has value when the person themselves fall to their own knees. Listen, Jesus did not say “if your knees offend you…”