Last week, in the Gospel, Jesus did something that we today, in our current Church environment, should have at least raised our eyebrows at. Remember? Taking a child, he placed him in their midst, and putting his arms around him, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” Those are the verses that immediately precede what we hear today.
Why do I bring this up? Well, Jesus today talks about one of these little ones who believe in me. He is speaking again of that childlike attitude and faith that we all need to have. In fact, from what Christ said last week, I infer that Jesus considers our actions toward the innocent and the young to also be carried out toward Him. He identifies with the weak and the vulnerable, the insignificant and the un-listened-to.
Now, as He considers the possibility of leading one of these people into sin, Jesus tells us rather strongly that “it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” The implication is that such sin is unacceptable, and leading someone into such sin is even more scandalous.
We certainly know scandal. We’ve been surrounded by it – all the time. The news is disgusting; and I know that we don’t usually come to church to rehash current events, but I think that what is going on in our world needs to be addressed from the point of view of the Gospel. The headlines are terrible, and I am just going to point out a few. The Judge Kavanaugh hearings have brought new attention to the reality of sexual assault and the idea of “men behaving badly” – regardless of whether he is guilty of such things, these things dohappen. The scandal of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick’s sexual misbehavior with seminarians and young people is sickening to even the most jaded Catholic. Every week, a new celebrity is accused of sexual misconduct, harassment, or even rape; and Bill Cosby just went to jail the other day because of it. Two headlines I read this week: “Mother Catches Suspect Committing Sex Acts with Her Three-Year-Old”, and “Woman Pleads Guilty to Letting Boyfriend Molest Her Ten-Year-Old Daughter.” It is sickening.
Doesn’t this make us wonder? Perhaps – just maybe – there is a bigger problem than these individual events, horrible as they are? Maybe we live in a society where we have made sin “no big deal,” and everything is okay, as long as we aren’t hurting anyone. Well, here’s another news flash: we are hurting people. Women, girls, sisters, children, boys, vulnerable people are being victimized, and it is often shrugged off with “Boys will be boys.” Priests betray the trust that families and young people place in them, and people immediately say it’s because they need some sort of sexual outlet. Parents allow monstrous behavior because they “don’t know any better themselves.”
There might not be enough millstones to go around, friends – and, I fear, there are some with our names on them!
The world we live in would like us to believe that sexual abuse is monstrous and unforgivable and at the same time believe that sex itself and sexual permissiveness is no big deal. We can’t have it both ways. If sex were no big deal, then pornography would not be as pervasive as it is. If sex were no big deal, then those who choose to forgo it for, say, the sake of the Kingdom would not be looked upon as so strange. If it were no big deal, then a little “harmless flirting” would not be seen as a life-ruining event. In short, sex is a big deal. It is beautiful; it is important; it is sacred. And we have treated it as recreation and a means to an end – something that powerful people can play with. With an attitude like that, we lead so many “little ones” into darkness and eventually sin. Jesus has something to say about that, and therefore, so do I.
If we remain complicit in leading others into sin, sexual or otherwise, then we are at risk of our eternal souls. Sin is real, and it is everywhere. The sad stories of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, and sexual abuse simply underscore this reality. And it’s not just sexual stuff. Enough is enough! As for Jesus in His day, so for us now. We need prayer for the souls of those at risk; we need action on behalf of the vulnerable; and we need millstones for those who simply don’t care or who would throw away theirs or other’s culpability. If you’re tired of these sorts of stories in our news, then let’s do something about the permissive society that allows the behaviors and attitudes that embolden and enable them. No one deserves mistreatment; everyone deserves the dignity of a child of God. Believe people who come to you in good faith about such horrible things, and together let’s work with Jesus to root out sin and save others – and ourselves – from that fiery Gehenna.