By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

When the Good Causes Scandal

There are two types of scandal. The first kind is the type we usually think of: bad or evil acts that disillusion others who placed their trust in a person (it might be a pastor or a friend or a spouse or a teacher). The second type is one not usually discussed: when objectively good acts "scandalize" others who do not understand such acts or whose worldview cannot absorb such objectively good acts. When the young Francis of Assisi or Thomas Aquinas decided to abandon all the trappings of family wealth and ambition, their decisions scandalized their powerful families. I am sure that is still happening today. Mother Teresa of Calcutta caused scandal among some who derided her person-to-person care of the poor as a useless and even harmful distraction in the face of massive, structural poverty. When we come to the Gospels themselves, we see Jesus himself causing scandal: by healing on the Sabbath, by talking to the woman at the well, by intimately healing the sick and disabled, and by associating with the wrong kind of people.

When the jailed John the Baptist sends his disciples to consult Jesus, to ask Jesus if Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus replies by pointing to his healings, to his raising of the dead, and to his proclamation of the good news and ends his listing of all these works with these perceptive (they always are, of course) words:

"and blessed is anyone who does not find me a cause of falling" (Matthew 11:6; New Jerusalem Bible).

In other words, blessed is he who is not scandalized in me; or as the RSV puts it: "And blessed is he who takes no offense at me."

Here is the second type of scandal noted above: scandal over the good, even the radically good.

We see it today when the charisms are exercised. The little charism of praising God in tongues causes great offense among many because it is "too much" even for some who are very pious and devout. The charism of healing causes scandal because some either do not believe such things are even possible today (or ever were) or because of the risk that some will not get healed and thus be disappointed. Or some are scandalized when a baptized, confirmed lay Catholic in a state of grace--who by those very sacraments is a temple of the Holy Spirit--delivers a prophetic message, as if only the writings of dead canonized mystics can deliver such messages. We see offense taken even toward the charism of generosity when people--admittedly, understandably so in our ego-driven, manipulative world--cannot imagine that gifts are granted with no strings attached or with no hidden agenda and not seeking any payback. All of these things seem very "imprudent" to those who do not look further.

Happy are those who take no offense when the good goes beyond the little boxes with which we and our very fallen world are comfortable and to which we are accustomed. The new heaven and the new earth will be the places where the little boxes will no longer exist. That experience of freedom can begin to emerge in some form, even now.