Millstone Collars and Oracular Woes

Millstones. Care for one?

The jury is still out as to whether fundamentalists enjoy sin less, as much or more than the rest of us. But in any event, we suspect that fundies hear more ‘millstone collar’ sermons than many of us.

‘He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  [Luke 17:1-4].

The trouble with Fundamentalism is that Jesus was right. Stumbling blocks happen inevitably. And if the regularity of rebuking is any realistic metric, Fundamentalism has at least its fair share of stumblers. Again, the proliferation of former Fundamentalists may imply that Fundamentalism also stockpiles stumbling blocks. Might this aid our understanding of Fundamentalism’s ongoing culture of reproaching/rebuking?

Of course, Fundamentalism doesn’t really entrench rebuking. That’s all a matter of perception. The real issue [as it always is in Fundyland] is fidelity to God’s word. It’s just that some people got the wild idea that Fundamentalism is every so much better at woes, millstones, guarding, rebuking and demanding repentance/returning than it is at forgiveness — let alone Jesus’ inexplicably liberal imperative that we do it seven times.

Still, Luke’s millstone, woes and rebuking is there. Could it be that Lu 17:1-4 vindicates IFB preachers for preaching such things baldly and without any qualification?

Millstones

Lu 17:2 is Luke’s only millstone. But it’s hard to cut the mental tie between the Lu 17:2 millstone and the Lu 11:46 addresses to those who

‘…weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.’

Oracular ‘Woes’

Lu 11:46ff. is also related to Lu 17:1 by the oracular ‘woe.’

‘Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens…’

‘”It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come!”‘

‘Woes’ in Luke

Luke’s gospel uses ‘ouai’ [woe] 15x; The contexts make interesting study.

  • Lu 6:24-25 — The well-fed wealthy who laugh and receive all the comfort they’re going to get in the here-and-now.
  • Lu 6:26 — Those praised by all, who are compared to false prophets.
  • Lu 10:13 — Chorazin and Bethsaida.
  • Lu 11:42-47 — Pharisees and lawyers.
  • Lu 11:52 — Lawyers.
  • Lu 21:23 — Pregnant/nursing women in the flight from Jerusalem’s 70 AD destruction.

These ‘woes’ all concern classes of people. If we want possible exceptions, Luke gives us but two texts. One is the passage under discussion, and the other arises from Luke’s version of the institution of the Holy Supper:

  • Lu 17:2 — It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come!
  • Lu 22:22 — ‘…woe to that man by whom He [the Son of Man] is betrayed!”

Preaching Lu 17:1-4

It isn’t yet clear to me why Luke seemingly connects these last two texts using ‘ouai-woe’ in a ‘singular’ and not a collective or class sense. Likely, he indicates some more personal or direct meaning. Or he may indicate the means or instrument through which betrayal or stumbling comes.

And in Lu 22, do we take Judas or Satan who entered him [v. 3] to be the instrument of betrayal? And if Satan’s instrumentality is predominant in Lu 22, should the same meaning be favored in Lu 17? What does it mean that ‘rebuke’ [‘if your brother sins, rebuke him’] is used in Lu 4:35 in rebuking unclean spirits? Might other clues in the text help us?

I have found that it is exactly when pastors grapple with finer points of the text, they do their best work. And they serve up their best preaching IF they can present it not like a professor but as a pastor.

I have also found that unless a pastor can offer a mature perspective on critical questions arising from the text, [s]he must handle the passage with the utmost of respect and their people with great care.

It is one thing to raise issues or questions. These can get people thinking. It is also good to admit that no, the pastor doesn’t know all things.

But if pastors charge into a passage, volleying blood, guts and thunder, pontificating of the eternal destinies of God’s people when they do not themselves know even the questions let alone the answers — that pastor stands to be asked whether he is a Luke 17:1-4 stumbling block.