My home church does Lenten devotionals every year with content provided by church members and a few affiliated guests. I was struggling today with my blog and since I have done it for her on occasion Donna volunteered one of her devotional entries in which my daughters feature prominently. Thanks Donna!
When the Carters were still living in the greater Birmingham metroplex, Scott told his little girls that “Aunt” Donna had been known to trip over her own shadow. (I do own my childhood nickname, “Grace.”) So every Sunday when it was sunny out, Rebekah and Jessie would solemnly escort me to my car, a hand on each of my arms, so I wouldn’t fall.
I appreciate their preciousness and wide-eyed trust of what their daddy told them. But the truth is, I can and have stumbled over nothing. Stumbling comes naturally to me. I might could even stumble for my country.
This particular passage in Matthew touches on an amazing array of topics in a short number of verses. Jesus probably rolled His eyes when the disciples asked Him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He chose to call over a little child, probably belonging to one of His female followers, to illustrate His point. Children were low in the order of status in that day, even lower than women. But this is whom Jesus exhorted the disciples to emulate.
He switches gears in verse 6 from literal children to figurative ones. In The Voice Bible, that verse reads, “And do not lead astray one of the weak and friendless who believes in Me. If you do, it would be better for you to be dragged down with a millstone and drowned in the bottom of the sea.” The New International Version clarifies the phrase “one of the little ones” as “those who believe in me.” The Zondervan Bible Commentary says that a better translation (by Monsignor Ronald Knox) of “causes one of these little ones…to stumble” is “hurts the conscience of.” The commentary goes on to say that “There are those who have never come to faith because of the unfaithful conduct of the ‘faithful,’ and there are many spiritual cripples thanks to their early impressions of a church.”
Ouch. How many times have we behaved inappropriately and caused someone else to question faith, the church, and Christ because of us? By “inappropriately,” I don’t even mean anything as drastic as being caught in “big sins.” Running down fellow sisters and brothers in Christ in front of nonbelievers can cause just as much stumbling. And I think that by causing others to stumble, we’re stumbling ourselves. People who cause others to stumble or hurt their conscience do not demonstrate humility, as they are often so certain their way is right. The consequences, as Jesus pronounces them, are dire. Just read verses 7 through 9.
We need (and I’m looking at myself) a huge dose of humility in our dealings with others. I definitely don’t want to be guilty of stumbling by causing someone else to stumble. Maybe if we hold on tightly to each other (metaphorically speaking) and keep our eyes on Jesus, we can avoid those treacherous shadows that threaten our feet, and so strengthen one another with humility and grace.
Lord, help me to step in the paths of humility and grace, so I don’t cause others to stumble, and that I don’t stumble myself. Amen.