Are you a stumbling block? Considering Jesus’ warnings on the subject, it is worth asking. It could be said that the art of competition is making another person stumble. This is true in a least a great many sports. A pitcher in baseball seeks to fool the hitter into swinging at a pitch he doesn’t want. The wide receiver tries to mislead the defender as to which direction he is running. And the boxer seeks to punch the other guy’s lights out. Someone once described sports as “civilized warfare.” I think this is a very fair description, although with the advent of things like Mixed Martial Arts, the “civilized” part is very much in question. But I digress. Sports are understood to be a competition of wit, strength and skill. But everyday life? That is a battle meant to be fought together. The human race can not afford to cultivate competition in matters of life and death. We already have an accuser to prowls around like a roaring lion. Let us not aide him by seeking to devour one another. “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come”, Jesus said, “But woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for a millstone to be hung around your neck and for you to be thrown into the sea than that you should cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:1-2). What do you imagine that Jesus is referring to? Handing out cigarettes on the playground? Well, yes. That is part of it. Is he referring to professors who mock Christianity and seek to lead their young students astray? Maybe they are included too. But the stories Jesus has just told in Luke’s narrative are the stories of an older brother who does not want his younger brother to be accepted back into the family, and a Rich Man who does not want a poor man to be his equal. The stumbling blocks that Jesus is specifically attending too are those who wish to hinder the exaltation of the lowly because then the lofty can no longer take advantage. Just the other day I saw a headline in the paper that said that a pharmaceutical company was being sued for deliberately creating addicts to sell more of their product. This is the same thing as the sale of cigarettes on the playground on a massive and potentially more destructive scale. But we are all guilty of it at some level. I have heard stories of actresses who insist that their supporting actresses wear padding to make them look a little heavier so that the main actress will look more attractive. We could go on for days listing ways that “they” do these things. And it won’t take long before we discover that there are many ways that we do these things as well. Jesus says that it would be better for us to be thrown into the sea with a large weight tied around our necks than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So how do we respond? Is this an invitation to suicide? No. Instead, it is a call to forgiveness and repentance. Forgiveness is the art of coming down from a perceived place of advantage. When someone wrongs you, it provides you with the opportunity to hold their sin over their heads for an eternity if you so desire. You can than use that sin as leverage to manipulate and control that person. At least, that is what most people would do, isn’t it? I “forgive” you but I’ll still remind you of it in the moments that you make me angry. It is an weapon we wield to keep control and to get someone to do our bidding. Or, on the other hand, it is an unpaid debt, a wrong which I am going to use as an excuse to take away your home, land, and dignity.
In our hometown, there is a housing crunch. The rental market is very high. It is actually cheaper to buy a home than to rent one, but if you don’t have established credit or a very good income (something that doesn’t often belong to young couples), you are pretty much stuck up a creek without a paddle. Young couples end up renting for ridiculous amounts of money just to have a place to live. And as a result of the high rental costs, they have no money left to save up to purchase their own home. There are many landlords who are more than happy with this situation. And as they reap the profits of the high rental market, they continue to buy up more land and housing in order to ensure that the situation doesn’t change. Woe to you stumbling blocks! Thankfully, our culture is still very Christian at least in memory. The situation here is not extreme....yet. But if Christians do not understand the Gospel's practical outworking in society, this situation could possibly become something out of a Charles Dickens novel in generations to come. And this little example is a reminder of how the Gospel of Jesus brings a very serious challenge to all levels of our society, not least, the political sphere. Let us praise God for His grace and forgiveness, because He does not hold our guilt over our heads! At the same time, God help us! Give us greater faith! For it is hard to give up opportunities to take advantage of someone. It is hard to forgive! But we must do it, or we will not be forgiven ourselves. We might as well go tie our necks to a dead weight and go for a swim. When we forgive someone, it doesn’t make us their superior but their equal. It is nothing to boast in. It is something we desperately need to do, because it is something we desperately need. That is why, at the end of the day, once we have forgiven, we will not pat ourselves on the back for our great deed, for we have only done what we were obliged to do. The human race is a family of equals. Jew or Gentile, slave or free, rich or poor, male or female, we are all one in Christ. Any other status is drowned in the sea. “How good and how pleasant it is for Brothers to dwell together in unity. It is like oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, coming down upon the edges of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion: For their the Lord commanded the blessing--life forever.” Psalm 133