Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. — Mark 9:33-37,42 (NRSV)
It is no wonder that this gospel lesson appears on the commemoration of William Wilberforce and Anthony Ashley Cooper, two who sought to heal the brokenness of the world by working to abolish slavery, return Jews to Israel and see to the welfare of children. Society, and even the church, had created stumbling blocks for many by denying the personhood and value of certain people and groups, and those stumbling blocks caused many little ones, beloved children of God regardless of size or age, to fall into hopelessness and despair. People like Wilberforce and Cooper worked to restore that brokenness and, years later, some of it has been healed.
There is still so much brokenness and so many stumbling blocks. There are still places where slavery of different sorts run rampant. The church has made strides to call attention to that wrongness and help to alleviate it, but the church also has remained silent in the face of other things that can and do make God’s children stumble and fall.
How many children of God have been forced to their knees because of who or what they are perceived to be by others who see only rule-breakers? For centuries, African Americans were seen as not really full humans and that perception lead to their treatment as less than human. For millennia, children of any class lower than those of the rich, were considered not really human but rather to be put to “honest work” in factories that not only broke their starving bodies but their spirits as well. What now of women in the majority world countries who live on the edge of desperation because they are seen as sexual objects for men’s pleasure or possessions to be used at will? What of GLBQTI folk who are no less fearfully and wonderfully made as any other children of God but who have lost faith in God and God’s church because they are made to be slaves to the perception of “Christians” who “love the sinner but hate the sin.” The Christians may be sincere in their belief, but so were the slave-holders, factory owners and brothel-keepers who claimed to be followers of Jesus but who put physical, mental and spiritual chains on those under their charge and care.
Love shouldn’t hurt. We abhor physical violence against children, but why do we sit quietly while spiritual violence is done to those whose life and being are touted as “abominations” or whose physical body makes them vulnerable to power plays and violence?
What are we doing to keep God’s children from stumbling and losing both faith and hope? Are we helping them heal — or are we just handing them millstones in the name of God?