Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Thursday, December 12, 2013

DOES JESUS OFFEND YOU?


Does Jesus offend you? Does Jesus' concern for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the unwanted, and outsiders offend you? The word translated "offend" comes from the Greek word, "Scandalon" that might better be translated "scandalized" or "that which causes someone to stumble." Jesus says that a person who is not scandalized  or caused to stumble by him is blessed. 

While Jesus might scandalize us or cause some of us to stumble because of his concern for those in need, he might also cause some to stumble because he is not a Rambo-type messiah on the side of the powerful or the oppressed. Perhaps John had concerns about Jesus' refusal to incite his followers to use  sacred violence for their just cause.

And so, from his prison cell, John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the One to come or not. In previous accounts from the other Gospels, John had called Jesus the One to come, the Messiah of God. But that was John's way of trying to make sense of Jesus' mission using the only available category he felt fit the circumstances. 

The Messiah was mostly seen as a very human military king, like Saul or David, who would lead Israel in battle against her foes. As John sat in prison, no doubt he remembered his own words he used to described the One who was coming as he who would set things right in the world by identifying the wicked of this world who oppressed the poor and used their wealth, power, and violence to maintain and extend their advantages. John was scandalized by the Roman Empire and by the Jewish religious establishment that catered to Caesar.

Our first reading from Isaiah and Jesus' response to John's question about whether he was the messiah seem to be very close to the same. The Isaiah passage sees a joyful time when those whose lives in their hometowns and especially Jerusalem were disrupted as the Babylonians captured the Holy City and destroyed it and took the leaders of the nation into captivity. 

Many of those being led captive were blinded by their oppressors; others had their legs broken and still others bore the shame of impurity as they were forced into circumstances that did not respect nor allow them to observe their laws that kept them pure. Their captivity was seen as a kind of leprosy that denied them the purity needed for worshipping God. 

Their joyful return to Jerusalem after their long captivity came to an end is described as a healing of the deep, deep physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds of their captivity. As they moved through the wilderness on their way home, the desert is not seen as hostile to them, but as flowering and welcoming and celebrative of the God who was bringing them home. 

The sign of God's forgiveness of their national sins, which many believed resulted in their captivity, was in the healing of those wounds and physical impairments. What joy Isaiah expresses!

I can imagine sitting on a hillside on the road that leads into Jerusalem watching the lame throw down their crutches; the blind no longer needing someone to lead them by the hand on the road home; those who could not sing nor hear the songs of Jerusalem sung in their captivity, are now jubilant as they hear the music of the pilgrims climbing up the final grade to Jerusalem. And I can imagine, the sense of forgiveness that made these captives feel pure as they anticipated the worship of God in the Temple. 

This is not a time of scandal or stumbling, but a time of rejoicing. This is not a time of payback against the oppressive Babylonians, it is a time of thanksgiving and praise. 

Jesus' response to John takes Isaiah's words and speaks them in answer to John's question: Are you the one we are we to wait for another?" He ends with the statement, "And blessed is he who takes no offense at me." Are God's ways stumbling blocks or scandals for us? Can the joy of coming home to a new beginning replace our need for vengeance and our own human wrath directed against our enemies?

Let the joy of God stirring up the power of grace and forgiveness and coming among us be with us as we celebrate this Rose Sunday.