Faith of a mustard seed

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

“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!.” (Luke 17:1-5)

Immediately following, what I think to be one of the most powerful parables of the Gospel, Luke’s single tradition telling of ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus’ is Luke’s conglomeration of both a triple tradition, ‘On Causing Sin’ and a double tradition, ‘On Forgiveness,’ not previously viewed in that Luke stood alone in recording the petition, “Increase our faith!”

Jesus has told of a rich man who, while tormented by the flames of hell has a change of heart. If Lazarus could be sent to his father’s house to warn his five brothers, they would repent. Father Abraham, Jesus says, told the rich man, “if they listen not to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” While ‘the parable’ is most always used in public hearing, here the chapter breaks to indicate that we have now entered a private hearing for the benefit of his disciples. I found these teachings so masterful that I chose ‘The Parables with Private Interpretation in Mark’ as my area of dissertation research while matriculating in the New Testament Biblical Studies Doctoral program at Drew University. In ‘private interpretation’ (identified in Mark as ‘keys to the Kingdom’) on the meaning of ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus’ parable, Jesus speaks to the disciples ‘On Causing Sin’ and ‘On Forgiveness.’

‘Skandala’ is the term used here of which Jesus warns of a retribution ‘worse than death’ for the offender. One sure indication of the difficulty in understanding is when so many translations use a different word, e.g., (KJV) offenses; (RSV) sin; (NRSV) stumbling; (NJB) falling, etc. But the word itself translates as ‘scandal’—a peculiar etymology in how far ‘skandala’ has come from its original Greek usage. Its biblical usage is controlled by the theology of Judaism and is absent from Greek thought and literature. Noteworthy is Kittel’s discussion on this word written by Stahlin: “What is at issue in ‘skandalon’ is the relation to God. The skandalon is an obstacle in coming to faith and a cause of going astray in it. As in the Old Testament, it is the cause of both transgression and destruction, for a fall in faith is a fall in the absolute sense.”

You will (passively) ‘skandalon/scandal’, offend, sin, stumble, fall, but to be the cause (actively) of skandalon carries with it a fate, i.e, “It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

by email: