Today”s Gospel at Mass was the familiar episode from the opening verses of Matthew 12, where Christ was asked why His disciples were picking heads of grain on the sabbath. There are many important dimensions to this reading, including the authority of Christ as “Lord of the sabbath” (verse 8), who represents something “greater than the Temple.”
But something else really struck me this morning. Think about it: The Pharisees confronted Jesus (with implied criticism, if not outright rejection) based on what they saw His followers doing. They said, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful . . .” (verse 2). The disciples were hungry and started picking the heads of grain. As Jesus went on to explain in this “teachable moment,” there was nothing wrong with this.
Yet, the point remains that in every generation people form judgments about Christ and about His Church based on what they see the disciples (us!) doing. [more]Of course in many cases we may give a good “witness,” not only in word, but also through actions rooted in charity. Other times, though, we may give a negative witness. When we sin, we not only wound our own relationship with God, but we also make it harder for others to turn to the Lord.
Or, for those who are already believers, our bad example makes it easier for them to turn away from the Lord.
We don”t fully understand the gravity of the word “scandal.” We tend to think that scandal simply means a public, perhaps newsworthy sin. Well, that might be part of it, but it goes much deeper. Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. It”s nothing short of being an accomplice to spiritual murder. Check out Catechism, nos. 2284-87, 2326 for its treatment of scandal under the fifth commandment (“Thou shall not kill”).
And we all know what Jesus has to say about those who would lead His little ones astray (see Matthew 18:6).
So today, while always striving to follow Jesus, who judges hearts, not appearances, let”s be mindful of the importance–for great good but also possibly for ill–of the example we give to others.