Lately, we’ve been fed by the media with a lot of stories that ignite some fires of indignation and anger deep within us. We riled at the thought that we’ve been robbed and abused. The recent investigations and inquiries brought before us had become a staple for angst to some of us. They opened a lot of canned worms. They rubbed salt to our gaping wounds- as a people, as a nation.
We had mixed emotions when one of the most decorated generals and accomplished soldiers took his life because he wanted no part for his family. His was a story of a scandal brought about by another scandal, and may be another scandal. Some had become indignant, others had become less forgiving, and still others praised the man.
Days (or maybe, hours) from now, we will be divided again— what with the impending impeachment process of the ombudsman. What is the reason? The ombudsman lost the public (our) trust because she failed to act on the scandals brought before her for examination and action. Her acts were scandalous enough to classify as betrayal of our trust- a constitutional offense, but a fundamental flaw and neglect, first and foremost. It will be a divisive exercise that will all boil down to numbers.
What is a scandal? And what can we possibly do?
It shall be helpful to turn to the Bible- the book that contains the best answers to our greatest questions. Let me direct your attention to the gospel of Matthew. The way the Jesus uttered the words might have shaken the world of his listeners. And the same words stir our ‘comfortable’ world.
In this gospel, Jesus gives us a very stern warning: ‘Woe to the world because of so many scandals! Scandals necessarily come, but woe to the one who has brought it about.’ (Matthew 18, 7). Jesus knows that scandals happen and shall certainly happen. He does not shun scandal. He sternly warns, and even curses, the person who causes it. He does not condemn the circumstances. He warns the person(s).
To get a clearer meaning of what Jesus was discoursing about, it must help us to go back to the preceding verse (v. 6): ‘If any of you should cause of these little ones who believe in me to STUMBLE and FALL, it would be better for you to be thrown into the depths of the sea with a great millstone around your neck.’ The Greek word scandalon (Greek as the original language of the New Testament) is the little pebble that, when unnoticed, causes a person to stumble and fall.
This little pebble may not always make noise or stir in a community. But it always leads people’s conscience to go astray. It is this little thing that makes those who seem to be truthful to fall.
To be scandalous then means to be a stumbling block. If we hinder other people to grow, we are scandals to them. When we keep our mind closed and never listen to people when they help us grow, we become scandals to ourselves. Scandals then lead to ungrowth, degeneration, underdevelopment.
Sometimes it is individual persons who lead us to scandals. In other circumstances, it is society as a whole which causes us to fall. We cannot simply close our eyes to the violence, corruption, and unjust (social) structures. They cause us and others to fall.
With the recognition that scandals necessarily come, it is as if Jesus was telling us that God did not create a perfect society. What He created were people with free will— people who grow because of their struggle with ‘evil’.
This ‘evil’ does not, in any way, destroy or diminish the glory of God. While scandal is inevitable, we can avoid it by training our eyes in the Lord. I believe this is the so-called straight path (daang matuwid). Once we walk with the light of the Lord, we shall never stumble and fall.
We can always wear our identities as children of God well by not being a scandal to others. God has formed us. And Jesus has warned us. The scandalous shall be annihilated and never be seen again.
‘Lord, help me live a just life and not be a scandal to others. Amen.’