Weekly Lectionary takes a look (sometimes brief, sometimes longer, sometimes odd) at one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This week we're looking at the gospel passage of Mark 9:38-50.
Ah, stumbling blocks. I heard a good deal about stumbling blocks growing up. In youth group, I learned (with good biblical basis as this week's passage indicates) that pretty much the worst thing a Christian could be is a stumbling block. I'm fairly certain my youth leaders didn't take it quite to the extent that Jesus took it. Causing others to stumble could irrevocably ruin our witness, but I don't think any of them told us that we would be better off dying in a horrific drowning at sea.
Of course, we seemed to circle around the same types of stumbling blocks. Typically it was partying, deception, and sex. In retrospect, I feel bad for girls since stumbling block conversations for them often centered on how virtually anything that they did would cause their fellow guys in the youth group to stumble. First of all, it's messed up to pin that all on the women. Guys should have the responsibility to control themselves. Secondly, it's a two way street and physical appearance isn't the only thing that is attractive. Was I, an awkward teenager, ever told that my wit or intelligence might cause a girl to stumble? No. Did it? No. But it would have been nice if someone had pretended that situation was a remote possibility.
I jest, but Jesus is clear that we should not trip other people in their walks towards God. If following God is the greatest thing available to us as human beings, then anything we do to prevent that for someone else is grand theft larceny. We rob another person of something immensely precious. Thus stumbling blocks are serious.
As adults, I think we still have a narrow focus on what constitutes a stumbling block. We seem to circle around deception and sex. There is reason for that. Lying and extramarital affairs are all too common among Christians and certainly provide ample fodder for people who say that we are hypocrites.
Yet as I read this passage, I thought of another potential kind of stumbling block that might be strewn around the earth. This is a purely hypothetical example because the scenario that I'm describing would never ever happen.
There are two guys. Let's call one guy Huck and the other one, I don't know, Barry. Huck and Barry say that they're both Christians, but they don't see eye to eye on politics and theology. One day, Huck says that Barry is just pretending to be a Christian. Huck doesn't know what's in Barry's heart. But Huck is assuming that since Barry doesn't believe in the Bible the same way that he does then Barry must not be a Christian. So he openly questions Barry's faith.
This is where it gets dicey. In Huck's mind, he's calling Barry out for being a stumbling block. However if there are people out there who agree with Barry on some things or even disagree with Barry but understand where he's coming from, then Huck may very well be a stumbling block to those people.
You see, Huck's actions seem to suggest that if you don't follow Jesus the way that he follows Jesus then you're a fake in Huck's eyes. And he will call you out on it. Publicly. That would be enough to turn some people away from Jesus. So in his zeal for blowing up stumbling blocks, Huck himself becomes one. Huck is still a Christian just like Barry is still a Christian (and he certainly has the right to say what he wants) but he is being a stumbling block to some. It's a reminder that we must be careful. We can call out things with which we disagree, but we must do so with grace.
But again, that's a hypothetical. That kind of stuff never happens.