Seeing the world through a theological lens...
Luke 17: 1-6
Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Mustard seed faith; is that really all we need to uproot a tree? And don't we have that, at least, by now? After all, we've been following Jesus for quite some time. We've seen the miracles. We understand (we think) his plan for the future, especially since we have the gift of hindsight. As moderns, we have the whole book!
Granted, the disciples had the added bonus of live and in-person Jesus. No doubt they asked him countless clarifying questions; "What do you mean by that?" and the like. But, you and I can look over the full course of Jesus's ministry; we can translate, re-read, re-interpret and re-evaluate what this all means for our lives and for our world. Jesus revealed his plan for humankind and we know it will work, should we employ it.
We also know that thus far in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has been talking a LOT about religion, and how it has been/can be used to teach people more about their brokenness, and less about their righteousness.
Here, he addresses both. To paraphrase: "Listen," says Jesus, "you're going to mess up from time to time. There will be some things that you've been taught in the faith that you hold dear; teachings that mean the world to you, precepts you can't seem to give up or let go of. These are stumbling blocks; they keep you bound to a system that does not work, and will hold you back from embracing all that God has for you."
'Stumbling blocks,' are things that we learn early on in our faith journey. As we've talked about many times, what we learn first about something, usually sticks with us. We internalize it. It takes root in us. Very often, what we learn about first about the nature of God, sticks. And once a tree has taken root, it is so tough to pull out.
For instance, if we've learned first that it is in God's nature to find us acceptable only if we behave in a certain way, and we can't let that go, we will continue to struggle to embrace God's unconditional love. If we've learned God is to be feared, or is waiting with a lightning bolt to toss down at us when we slip up, we will be forever walking on eggshells in our relationship with God. If we've learned that God's forgiveness is limited and that God is wrathful, then we will adopt a belief that at some point we can push God over the edge, and that God will give up on us.
Jesus knows all of this. He knows how religious zeal brought about a desire to please God, and how that grew from desire to dogma. He knows how difficult it will to live without a strict set of rules for a people seeking black and white rules. He knows the challenge for the disciples and new converts who have been taught/internalized things about God and about themselves that are untrue. And there is grace for that.
Then he turns to the teaching of children. "Woe to anyone who causes one of these little ones to stumble..." It reminds me of the Crosby, Stills, Nash song 'Teach Your Children." We hope for our children that they will learn from us, truths about God; that they will have cherished memories of young faith, that they will internalize that God loves them, exactly as they are, no matter what.
Yet they will receive from us are the truths we model for them. They will learn from us and our example, by watching, mimicking, and following our teachings, as the disciples did with Jesus.
If they learn the same truths we did about God, if the next generation learns they are broken, sinners, unworthy, and waiting for a wrathful God to get fed up and smite them, we just perpetuate the misuse and abuse of religion. We will lead another generation astray instead of teaching them how valuable and holy and pure they are; that they have it in their hands to turn the world to a better tomorrow.
If we don't teach them well, that they are loved and acceptable, Jesu tells us it will weigh us down even further- it will pull us under like a millstone around our neck- all of us.
Yes, it sounds like a tremendous amount of responsibility; that the future, our children's future, the worlds future, is indeed in our hands. No wonder the disciples asked for more faith!
Yet everything we need is already within us. With the smallest amount of faith we can uproot the biggest obstacles of THE faith. We may not be able to remove our own stumbling blocks, and will surely trip over them from time to time, but we do not have to help our children plant stumbling blocks of their own. Those trees can be uprooted and thrown into the sea. With just mustard seed sized faith.
Here's the link to the song... you're welcome!