Scandal and offense

The English word “scandal” comes from a Greek word which sounds about the same. The original meaning of the Greek word scandal was a stone that causes people to stumble. Such a scandal might be a raised threshold in a doorway, a rock embedded in a dirt path, or a loose step on a stairway.

Some scandals were deliberate. Stairs in castles were uneven, but the people who lived in those castles were familiar with the tall steps, the short steps, and the loose steps. If they were fleeing a pursuer, they could confidently travel the irregular stairs, but the newcomer would be overthrown by the scandal.

Jesus called himself a scandal. Those who did not know him or recognize him tripped over him. Jesus came to rescue sinners, but he also caused the downfall of many in Israel who were not prepared to see Jesus as the Messiah, the world’s Savior, the Son of God, or the King of an eternal kingdom.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are not scandalized by me.” Most English translations use the word “offended” to translate the scandal that Jesus identified. Since many people today are easily offended by even the smallest of things, the blessing Jesus spoke is easily misunderstood. Jesus was not concerned that he or his teachings might offend someone. His concern was that people would refuse to recognize him and would therefore be overthrown by him.

The world would be better if people were not so easily offended. On the other hand, the world would also be better if people took more trouble not to offend one another. When everything is offensive, then nothing really matters any more. But common courtesy requires us to strive not to create problems for our neighbors.

If person A says or does something that offends person B, person A might not to be blame. Person A might not realize that person B found those words or actions offensive. Person B has an obligation to tell person A about the offense. Of course this should be done calmly, gently, and lovingly. Once that has happened, person A has a responsibility not to repeat the offense. Purposely and repeatedly doing something that annoys another person is rude; in some cases, it could be considered harassment.

I know two very funny jokes that I never tell except to people I know well. Both of them could be offensive to some people. The humor in both jokes depends upon similar sounding words (important/impotent in one, supplies/surprise in the other). In each joke, the person who misunderstands the word is part of an ethnic minority which would pronounce one word to sound like the other. People unfamiliar with my sense of humor might come to the conclusion that I am mocking minorities, portraying them as stupid, rather than simply reveling in the play of words that sound the same but have very different meanings.

To some people I might seem oversensitive, too concerned about the feelings of other people. But courtesy matters to me; I prefer not to offend people needlessly. On the other hand, I am not shy about the scandal of Jesus Christ and the cross. Should anyone choose to be offended because I speak of Christ and the hope I have in him, they will have to address their complaint to him and not to me. My courtesy does not include participating in the overthrow of a life because I failed to tell them about the scandal that exists. J.

 

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