Monday of Week 32 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Luke 17:1-6

We move on to chapter 17 of Luke and today we have three separate sayings of Jesus which we find in different contexts of Matthew’s Gospel. The first is on the inevitability of scandals. Scandals are those actions or words which, literally, cause people to trip up and fall. Here they refer to words or actions which become obstacles, preventing or making it more difficult for people to believe in and accept Christ and the Gospel.

These things are inevitable, Jesus says, but it is tragic for those who are responsible. It is a terrible thing to come between a person and the call of Christ, to be the effective agent for blocking a person coming to know and love Christ and his Way. It would be better for the scandal-causer to be thrown into the sea with a millstone round his neck. The “little ones” can refer either to those who are young and innocent, or those who are frail in their Christian faith.

Sadly, over the years, our news has reported many “scandals” on the part of Catholic leaders – bishops, priests, brothers and sisters. It is difficult to say how many people’s faith was weakened by these events, but it is likely that they were enough to make some less committed people experience a sense of disillusionment and abandon the Church.

In some cases, there was probably no scandal in the strict sense, but simply failings due to human frailty. In other cases, especially where the young or the innocent were abused or led astray, real scandal and prolonged harm were certainly present.

Scandal in the Gospel sense and in the tabloid sense are not quite the same, and we should be careful to distinguish them. Jesus himself caused “scandal” among some of the religious leaders because he failed to observe certain rituals. This is known as “pharisaical” scandal or hypocritical scandal. We Catholics can certainly be guilty of this kind of false scandal, and certainly the media at times, for purposes of sensationalism, can blow up certain trivial matters in a particularly obnoxious “holier-than-thou” approach.

But it is not only people in public life who cause scandal. Parents, by an ambivalent, two-standard behaviour, can tell their children to behave in one way while they themselves act in a totally other way. Catholic parents, and others in charge of the guidance of children (such as teachers), need to be particularly careful of being stumbling blocks to their children’s faith.

The second saying is about forgiveness and reconciliation, and it is not unconnected with the question of scandal above. If a brother or sister, that is, a fellow-Christian is clearly in the wrong, he or she should be corrected. And, if the wrong-doer clearly repents, then forgiveness should be given. Even if someone commits the same offence any number of times and each time sincerely expresses sorrow, that person is to be forgiven.

This is not to say that a person can keep doing wrong and expect forgiveness simply by apologizing. Some kind of controlling action may have to be taken. This is especially true where the person is not in control of himself or herself, which could be the case with someone who is addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex, or the victim of some other compulsive behaviour. But even here, punishment alone cannot be a satisfactory solution, but every effort must be made to heal and rehabilitate.

As Christians, the whole thrust of our actions is for reconciliation, and not judgement and condemnation. We need to remember the teaching about God’s love for the sinner in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son (see Luke chap 15).

The third saying is about faith, that is, deep trust in God. The apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith. This may be seen in the context of the warning about scandal, and the requirement to forgive indefinitely. He told them:

If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Perhaps an area where we need a strong trust is in trying to rehabilitate both the givers and the victims of scandal, and certainly we need faith if we are to be able sincerely to forgive, again and again, those who have hurt us or others. But true forgiveness is not the simple writing off of a wrongdoing. Rather, it is taking the necessary steps to restore a status quo of harmony and peace and mutual love and respect. And, it can take a long time.

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