+JMJ+ How many times has it happened to you? You reply to someone. online or in person, stating the constant teaching of the Church on some point, and WHAM! People turn on you with a viciousness that is surprising for those who call themselves Christians. They pull a Bible verse out of their hats and beat you with it. But their interpretation is not the interpretation of 2,000 years of Christianity. It is, however, the interpretation of many who have turned their backs on the Church and her teachings and are content to make up their own “Christianity” as they go.
This is known as proof-texting, which is, as you may or may not know, the isolating of a verse or a passage from the rest of the verses or passages around it, and from the Bible as a whole, and from the message that has been handed down from the beginning. Why do people do that? Generally it is because they don’t know any better or they’re simply thinking with the mind of the world instead of the mind of the Church. They’re carnal and worldly, in other words, no matter how spiritual they claim to be. That’s why their sharp claws come out so readily.
It was brought home to me a few days ago when someone asked on social media if pedophilia can be forgiven, yes or no. I said, all sins can be forgive except the sin against the Holy Spirit. I also point out that pedophilia itself is not a sin, but a condition (I couldn’t think of the right word), but that acting on it is a sin, that giving in to the temptation of it is very much a sin. Oh, the things I was called and accused of: covering up for pedophile priests. Could’ve seen that one coming and in fact I did, but I had to speak up anyway. So many people were answering with such hatred and harshness that I really had to say something.
Let me pause here, lest anyone misunderstand or misconstrue what I’m saying. I hate, detest and loathe entirely, and condemn most strongly the abuse and harm of ANYONE, children, the elderly, the disabled (I’m disabled myself), A N Y O N E ! Let’s get that out of the way right now. I hate violence but I understand that sometimes one has to physically defend oneself or others. I hate abuse, bullying, and intimidation, period! And to do anything like that to a child—well, if I see you do it, you are in BIG TROUBLE. If I hear of you doing it, and it can be proven you did it, you’re also in BIG TROUBLE. I do not cover up for such wickedness. I hate evil! So there!
I do not want to cover up for priests who are harming children or adults, nor do I want to cover up anyone else doing it. I have friends who were abused in their families for YEARS and some who were abused by those in authority in their church. Not priests, not Catholic. And the old me would dearly enjoy beating the cr@p outta the abusers, but the me now will restrain myself because I think the law ought to do that (or worse). And I know they will get theirs someday when they meet their maker. I try to forgive, which is NOT the same thing as approving or merely condoning or even tolerating. I’ll say more about this in a moment.
Now back to the proof-texting. Here’s what happens when one builds his own theology out of poorly understood Biblical texts. The verse thrown at this question—is pedophilia forgivable, yes or no—was (you can probably guess):
“But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.”Matthew 18:6 RSV2CE. Emphasis added.
Now a lot of people interpret this verse as a warning to us to not abuse children. But that’s not what the text is saying at all. Of course we shouldn’t abuse children. I think the Lord expects us to know that already. What He is saying here must be understood in the context of the rest of Matthew’s Gospel, especially in this chapter.
And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.Mt 18:2–4, RSV2CE. Emphasis added.
These verses are not talking about children but the humble ones who have become like little children in their faith in Christ, as the Lord Himself has just said in Mt 18:3.
Those who would be greatest must “turn and become like children.” Jesus calls the child over to Him to drive the point home, to make a point that people can hear and see and that will make an impression on them that will be hard to forget. He is not talking about children but making a point about conversion (“turn”) and spiritual childhood (“become like children”).
From Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis.
The particular harm Jesus here envisions as the greatest of evils is that some obstacle or vice should be introduced into the path of God’s little ones’ simple faith in him. Just as Jesus seems to classify all mankind here into two categories—the trusting little ones and those who trip them up—so, too, he portrays a distinct destiny for each. Spiritual children are those who come to Jesus, responding to his call (18:2), those who believe in Jesus, that is, who sink the roots of their being into the person of Jesus (the Greek says literally “who believe into me”), those who humble themselves and hence expect everything from God (18:4), with the result that they will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (18:3).
We may say that what characterizes the existence of God’s little ones is a continual dynamic movement of growth toward Christ as center, and this movement rises from the depths of humility to the heights of heaven. By contrast, anyone who obstructs this movement of faith, this flight to Christ, will be subject to a very different and negative dynamics: rather than upward flight, he is destined to downward plunge. Causing another to stumble on the way of faith is at bottom always a satanic act; therefore, Jesus’ fitting sentence for the perpetrator of such a deed reminds us of the archetypal fall from grace: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk 10:18).Leiva-Merikakis, (1996–2012), pg. 616. Emphasis added. See notes below.
So the “little ones” in Mt 18:6 are those humble souls who believe in Him and are obedient to Him, not merely and literally little children, though of course we should protect and cherish them. OF COURSE WE SHOULD.
Now oddly enough for a bunch of people who claim to be Christian, the ones who were busy trashing the few Catholics I witnessed stating the truth of the matter, none of them mentioned (that I saw) the very pertinent line from the Lord’s Prayer. This may have something to do with the profoundly misguided idea that the prayer which Jesus HIMSELF gave us to pray is, well, allow me to quote what they have said this to me, including a dear Protestant friend:
“It’s only a model for prayer. We’re not supposed to pray it all the time, slavishly.”
I am astonished each and every time someone says this to me with a straight face. People actually think they can pray better than the Second Person of the Trinity, the Divine Logos, the Word made flesh Who came down from HEAVEN and dwelt among us. Oh, really? You can do better than Jesus? Do tell! Maybe if you actually prayed that prayer a certain line would sink in. The one about forgiveness.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”Matthew 6:12, RSV2CE. Emphasis added.
I’m going to quote another passage from Fire of Mercy:
“It is not so much a matter of ‘meriting’ pardon juridically by first forgiving others. Rather, I will simply not be able to receive the pardon God gladly offers unless I first dispose my heart to forgive.”Leiva-Merikakis, (1996–2012), Vol. 1, p. 263. Emphasis added.
So we should also forgive others, not just so that we may be forgiven, but we will not be forgiven if we don’t forgive.
But all of those people who used that earlier-quoted verse as a proof-text and a hammer against me as if I had suggested that child abuse was perfectly acceptable (AS IF!), and were especially insulting to me because I am Catholic, you were wrong, about me and about the Gospel message. So how about next time, instead of using your Bible as a weapon against a fellow Christian who has taken much time to actually read and LEARN what the Bible says, you put it down on a table or desk and sit down and READ it yourself. And get a catechism and a really good Catholic Bible study book or program while you’re at it, and stop spreading distortions and untruths and smearing someone who is trying to live as a faithful, formed and informed Catholic Christian disciple.
That’d be great.
Thank you for visiting and reading. I hope you’ll join me again. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, please stay safe and well, virtuous and holy. May the Lord bless and keep you and yours, and may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+
Notes and Links
- The Holy Bible. (2006). (Revised Standard Version; Second Catholic Edition, Mt 18:2–4). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
- Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Chapters 1–25 (Vols. 1 and 2), by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (1996–2012). San Francisco: Ignatius Press. (I first heard of this book during the homily of Fr. Anthony Mary over at EWTN’s chapel a few years ago. He sang its praises and I was excited to find it offered in Verbum. Now I just need to read it. All I’ve done so far is use it as a reference, but even that has been rewarding.) Get a copy of Fire of Mercy, Vol 1: Paperback. Kindle. Vol 2: Paperback. Kindle. Vol 3: Paperback. Kindle. Verbum format: all three volumes in one bundle. (Amazon links are affiliate links. See Full Disclosure below.)
Image credits: Jesus als Kinderfreund, by Marie Ellenrieder, 1845, and Christ Blessing the Children, by Nicolaes Maes, Web Gallery of Art, both found on Wikimedia and both in the public domain.
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