I had planned to read more of Matthew’s Gospel than I did this morning.
One verse, though, unexpectedly captured my contemplation in a manner that prevented me from reading past it. It was this verse:
“[Jesus said] And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11:6).
The phrase “takes no offense” is one way of translating the Greek word σκανδαλισθῇ (skandalisthē), from which we derive the English word “scandal.” (This verse, by the way, is part of the reason why I am so often inclined to describe the grace of God as “scandalous.” It is a grace that can offend the sensibilities of those who wish to evaluate it by typical metrics.)
There it is, then. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at Jesus and who does not see his countercultural priorities as a stumbling block. The richest blessing of God, in other words, is to be found in a refusal to be scandalized, offended, or put off either by the grace that Jesus incarnated or the discipleship into which he calls us to live.
Matthew 11:6 took me back in my memory to a small newsstand in Grove City, Pennsylvania where I would often stop with my mother after church to pick up a Pittsburgh Press for my dad and a comic book for me. As we walked into the newsstand, I would be carrying both a Bible (which I had just spent time reading at church) and a spirit of eagerness, both of which were weighty in their own ways. On our walk home from the newsstand, as I carried both the Bible and the new comic book at my side with one hand, I remember intentionally putting the comic book on the outside and the Bible on the inside (closer to my leg) so that the Bible would not be easily visible to anyone who saw me.
Why? Why would I make such a choice? And why do I remember it so clearly today?
I am not certain that I can answer those questions definitively. But I suspect that my effort to conceal the Bible had something to do with the fact that, even as a 7-year-old, I had already learned that there was something scandalous about the life of Christian faith and the Way of Jesus. Even at that age, I had learned that risky love is often ridiculed; that the church is often perceived as foolish; that peacemakers are often marginalized; that pursuing a holiness that honors God is often seen as weakness; and that those who walk alongside outcasts are often criticized or dismissed.
Even at that age, I had come to understand that it was far safer to hide my deepest Story beneath a comic book.
Decades later, I am less inclined to hide my Bible. This morning’s experience with Matthew 11:6, however, compels me to consider the very real possibility that I am concealing my discipleship with a more sophisticated methodology. How often, for example, do I hide the work of speaking truth to power behind a safer contentment with maintaining a superficial peace? How frequently do I conceal much-needed repentance behind a narcissistic self-righteousness? On how many occasions do I bury the often-subversive priorities of Jesus beneath the more comfortable impulses of my personal preferences?
I may no longer conceal the Bible behind a comic book (at least on most days). And yet, I cannot help but wonder how frequently I am so “offended” or put off by Jesus’ call to a scandalous and comprehensive discipleship that I choose to hide the life to which he calls me behind the life that I am content to live.
Still, God is patient and gracious with me and makes certain that these words of Scripture resonate with power in my consciousness:
“Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
I long to experience that blessedness more deeply this Advent. It is the blessedness of a grace that brings beautiful new life to those who refuse to be offended or scandalized by the truth that Jesus illuminates—specifically, the truth that a person’s best achievements and self-reliance are not the means by which we will be saved.
For proud and independent souls like us, such an idea is almost offensive.