Don’t be scandalized by me

By: Fr. Roy Cimagala

That’s what Christ told his disciples. When John the Baptist heard of what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask Christ if he (Christ) was the one John told them was to come or should they expect someone else.

The response of Christ was very telling. “Go and show John again those things which you hear and see,” he said. “The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not scandalized by me.” (Mt 11,4-6)

Other versions of the same gospel passage render Christ’s response as “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me,” “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me,” or “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

They all mean the same thing—that they, and we, should not be scandalized by some of the moves, the bold, unexpected moves that may break some waivable protocols or human molds that Christ did in order to reach out to the sick, the weak, the dead and those in the peripherals who to us should not be taken in the literal and physical sense only but more so in the moral and spiritual sense.

I thought this consideration is most relevant these days when we see many so-called good and conservative Catholics scandalized by what Pope Francis is doing to reach out to whom he regards as the peripherals in society.

These peripherals can be those in some irregular situation like the divorced and remarried, the separated, or the gays, those still in some tribal cultures with pagan beliefs and practices, those whose ideologies are opposed to the Christian faith, etc.

In another sense, the peripherals can also be those in the mainstream not only in society but also in the Church itself who need to be constantly converted, since every one of us, whether we like to admit it or not, is a sinner. (cfr. 1 Jn 1,8)

These latter can be the more difficult cases to Christianize, since they can be so trapped in their self-righteousness that they can sound and act more popish and more Catholic than the Pope, and even more strict than God himself.

They can be like the Pharisees of old that could not see the Redeemer when in fact he was right in front of them. Instead they clung to their own laws, traditions, and ideas. Worse, they always tried to find fault in Christ until they finally managed to deliver him to death on the cross. Their idea of God and the Redeemer is strictly according to their own making.

We have to be most careful with this very subtle danger that is so common nowadays. Many good people fall for it. In their ardent desire and effort to be good and holy, they end up making themselves their own god, their own redeemer, such that they could not stand anyone or anything that is not like them.

They would regard dealing with the peripherals as a waste of time, since these cases, so unlike them, are already consigned by them to the category of the completely lost, hopeless, and irredeemable.

Instead, we should try to be always open to everyone, and in fact give some special attention, like what Christ did, to the difficult cases, the lost sheep, lost coin, and the prodigal son. We should try to foster relationship with others, trying to be always engaging, so that with friendliness and cordial treatment, we can manage to clarify things and hopefully motivate people toward conversion.

For this, we truly have to be mature both in the human and Christian sense, vitally united with Christ and keenly discerning of what the Holy Spirit is prompting us.