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!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
One of the current hot topics of discussion between Christians and non-Christians concerns this idea of being a stumbling block for someone else. It manifests itself in several ways, but modest clothing is definitely the most volatile. Women say “I should be able to dress however I want without being stared at! It’s their responsibility to not make me uncomfortable.” To which I say, yes, it IS their responsibility to control their actions. But I would also ask, just because YOU want to do something, does that make it the right thing to do?
I know men who struggle with the temptation to look at women lustfully. I’ve discussed it with them. They don’t want to look, but they are surrounded on all sides by a sea of women dressed in a way that they can’t look at it. Everywhere they turn there is another women they have to turn away from. So of course they mess up sometimes. As Jesus points out, temptation (and succumbing to it) is inevitable. We are sinful people, and it isn’t always so easy for us to just look the other way. For many of these men, this particular temptation is painful and life-ruining. So I would ask the woman who wants to wear whatever she wants, which is more important? You looking exactly the way you want to look, or helping men avoid a temptation that ruins marriages and even lives? Yeah, it would be great to look great, but it would be even greater to be the kind of person who puts others before themselves. THAT’S why in the 21st century I still believe women are called to modesty.
I often use the analogy of being on a diet. Imagine you’re trying to lose 15 pounds, and your diet is super strict, but you’ve cleaned every piece of junk food out of your house, take a lunch to work with you every day, and all these other things to avoid the temptation of chocolate. You are having dinner at your mother’s house this weekend, and when you get there the sweet, delicious scent of chocolate chip cookies is wafting through the house. How do you feel? Probably a little angry. She knew you were on a diet! But, she says, your father was really craving them, and you don’t HAVE to eat any. But they’ll be sitting right here in case you change your mind. Now you’re probably angrily texting your girlfriends about how awful your mom is. And if you’re anything like most of my friends, you’ll probably ending up eating at least two cookies before you leave.
I’ve experienced temptation too. It’s difficult and miserable. I know I would personally be thankful to anyone who did anything, even something small, to help prevent me from facing it, whatever temptation was. If my best friend was recovering from alcoholism, of course I wouldn’t drink around her. If my husband struggled to stick to a budget I wouldn’t hand him a brand new credit card. And if my mom was on a diet I definitely wouldn’t make cookies when she came over. So when there are men around I try dress in a way that is the least likely to catch their eye, just to help them out.
I know I’m just kind of tacking this here on the end, but I don’t want to ignore it. Because even though this story of the slave is less clear to me, I think it’s important. The obvious message is that, yes, Jesus wants us to treat everyone, even our inferiors, as equals. (And there isn’t really anyone inferior to us anyway, but the people at the time definitely thought there were. All men were created equal is a very modern idea.) But I also suspect He is criticizing believers for not trying to go above and beyond the call of duty. For being content with the status quo. I don’t think He wants us to just sit around and wait for a Bible verse to tell us what to do. Instead we should everything we are into making the world better for others. Which, let’s face it, is an awfully tall order.