This morning I awoke to the news that a major car manufacturer has admitted that, since 2009, they have been programming their cars’ computers to cheat on pollution emissions tests. Out on the open road, the engine merrily burns its fuel rich and dirty. But on the test-stand, when an official hooks up an emissions-testing rig, it’s a different story: the same engine is then controlled by its computer to “clean up its act” – to pretend that it runs lean and clean.
All around us are various types of scandals. The scandals of celebrities, politicians, and rich people often make the news and gossip media— unless they shovel enough money around in the right places to shut the mouths of the witnesses and victims. Maybe you remember the recently exposed scandal of a formerly high-powered member of Congress who was paying “hush money” to someone whom he had abused, years ago.
In our neighborhoods and in our own families, we also have scandals.
The word “scandal” comes directly to us from the Greek language. However, outside of the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament (with which Jesus and the apostles were familiar) and the New Testament, the word “scandal” meant basically one thing: a trap.
The Jews started to use the word “scandal” to mean “something that ruins a person.” Maybe you can picture falling into a trap or tripping over something, and if it doesn’t kill you, it leaves injuries or scars that may haunt you for the rest of your life. Maybe it’s a physical trap, such as getting mugged while taking a shortcut through a dark alley. But the ancient Jews also used the word “scandal” for spiritual traps: yielding to the temptation to worship false gods; yielding to temptations to sin.
That’s what Jesus was talking about when he said,
If your hand “scandalizes” you, cut it off;
it is better for you to enter life maimed
than to have two hands and to go to hell,
to the unquenchable fire. (Mark 9:43)
I am sure that Jesus said it that way NOT so his followers would chop off their hands, feet, or eyeballs, but rather so they would notice that it’s not my hand’s fault when I put it in the cookie jar. It’s not my eyeball’s fault when I covet my neighbor’s possessions. It’s not my foot’s fault when I go where I know God doesn’t want me to go.
Our hearts, our minds— that’s where the scandal-trap springs.
It wasn’t a fault in the cars’ computers that cheated on the emissions tests: it was the greedy corporate leaders who wanted to sell the cars as both powerful and clean-running. They fell into the traps of cutting corners and telling lies.
How can we avoid scandals that ruin us ?
Jesus tells us to keep our “saltiness” – that is, our spiritual flavor that identifies us as his disciples.
The Letter of James tells us that we have the capacity to go to each other’s aid when someone trips and falls. We can rescue each other, we can bring our brothers and sisters back from wandering in sin (James 5:19-20).
The surest way to stay out of scandal is to embody the Spirit which was in Jesus, which will guide us and empower us to defeat all the devil’s traps.
“I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets,
and that the LORD would put His spirit on them!”
- Moses, in Numbers 11:29
If we see you in the news, let it be good news !