A certain kind of journalism thrives on scandals, but they are not what theologians or any kind of deep thinkers mean by a scandal. A “skandalon” is a stick in a trap that ensnares an animal that touches it and, intellectually, it is a mental trap on the path to truth. Saint Paul said that the concept of God becoming human in Christ was a kind of joke for the Greek philosophers who enjoyed playing with words, but for the Jews to whom God had revealed himself as singular and lofty, it was scandalous to the ultimate degree. The philosophers in Athens smirked, but the rabbis in Jerusalem beat their breasts in anguish.
The “Scandal of Particularity,”
which has challenged theologians, is the fact that the
immeasurable Creator of the Universe is concerned with the
minutest details of his creation, to the extent that he both
dwells in Eternity and also is born as a man in his own
created time and space. But a related scandal is this: each
human being is of huge value to God, so much so that he dies
to unite each one of us to him.
Some serious theologians without the gift of
faith might react to this with a shudder, like the ancient
rabbis. Others who do not believe in God at all simply
dismiss the idea with a flick of the hand. For them, the
only value of a human is what he can produce for the benefit
of others, be it scientific or artistic, or just cleaning
windows and digging coal. In that calculus, an individual is
worth a fraction of a crow and counts only as part of a mob.
If an unborn baby is inconvenient to the mother, it may be
aborted, and if an elderly lady finds it hard to climb
stairs or remember who she is, she may be euthanized.
Unclear thinkers of our day who call themselves
“spiritual but not religious” want a God who is
an amorphous vapor, making no demands of them and merely
justifying their animal passions and providing background
music when they look at a sunset. That sorry misuse of the
imagination will never understand why Jesus looks for the
lost sheep and embraces the prodigal son who has tired of
living like a pig.
How many people Josef Stalin killed is debated.
Solzhenitsyn figured it was about 60 million, but a
generally accepted figure according to one calculation is
“only 20 million.” Jesus never spoke of
“only one lost sheep.” Neither would he agree
with Stalin that “one death is a tragedy; one thousand
is a statistic.” In our culture, the proposition that
each human life is of infinite value scandalizes, but it
also is the substance of our faith in the Word made flesh.
“You were bought at a price . . .” (1