17 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin[a] are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.[b] 3 Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Cited in the Catechism: In promulgating the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Blessed John Paul II explained that the Catechism “is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium.” He went on to “declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion” (Fidei Depositum). Passages from this Gospel reading and its parallel passages in Matthew and Mark are cited in the Catechism paragraphs 162, 2227, 2287 and 2845.
On leading others astray
17:1–3. Our Lord condemns scandal, that is, “any saying, action or omission which constitutes for another an occasion of sin” (St Pius X, Catechism, 417). Jesus is teaching two things here: the first is that scandal will in fact happen; the second, that it is a grave sin, as shown by the punishment it earns.
The reason why it is so serious a sin is that it “tends to destroy God’s greatest work, that of Redemption, through souls being lost; it kills one’s neighbour’s soul by taking away the life of grace, which is more precious than the life of the body, and it is the cause of a multitude of sins. This is why God threatens with the most severe punishment those who cause others to stumble” (ibid., 418). See the notes on Mt 18:6–7; 18:8; 18:10.
“Take heed to yourselves”: a serious warning, meaning that we should not be a cause of scandal to others nor should we be influenced by the bad example others give us.
People who enjoy authority of any kind (parents, teachers, politicians, writers, artists, etc.) can more easily be a cause of scandal. We need to be on the alert in this respect in view of our Lord’s warning, “Take heed to yourselves.”
17:2. Millstones were circular in shape with a large hole in the centre. Our Lord’s description, therefore, was very graphic: it meant that the person’s head just fitted through the hole and then he could not get the stone off.
17:3–4. In order to be a Christian one must always, genuinely, forgive others. Also, one has to correct an erring brother to help him change his behaviour. But fraternal correction should always be done in a very refined way, full of charity; otherwise we would humiliate the person who has committed the fault, whereas we should not humiliate him but help him to be better.
Forgiving offences—which is something we should always do—should not be confused with giving up rights which have been unjustly violated. One can claim rights without any kind of hatred being implied; and sometimes charity and justice require us to exercise our rights. “Let’s not confuse the rights of the office you hold with your rights as a person. The former can never be waived” (St Josemaría Escrivá, The Way, 407).
Sincere forgiveness leads us to forget the particular offence and to extend the hand of friendship, which in turn helps the offender to repent.
The Christian vocation is a calling to holiness, but one of its essential requirements is that we show apostolic concern for the spiritual welfare of others: Christianity cannot be practised in an isolated, selfish way. Thus, “if any one among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (Jas 5:19–20).
The power of faith
17:5. “Increase our faith!”: a good ejaculatory prayer for every Christian. “ ‘Omnia possibilia sunt credenti. Everything is possible for anyone who has faith.’ The words are Christ’s. How is it that you don’t say to him with the apostles: ‘Adauge nobis fidem! Increase my faith!’?” (The Way, 588).
17:6. “I’m not one for miracles. I have told you that in the holy Gospel I can find more than enough to confirm my faith. But I can’t help pitying those Christians—pious people, ‘apostles’ many of them—who smile at the idea of extraordinary ways, of supernatural events. I feel the urge to tell them: Yes, this is still the age of miracles: we too would work them if we had faith!” (The Way, 583).
Source: The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries. Biblical text from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and by Scepter Publishers in the United States. We encourage readers to purchase The Navarre Bible for personal study. See Scepter Publishers for details.
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” St Jerome
I am a cradle Catholic, wandered in the desert of sin for 20 years and returned into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church in 2005. I am the founder of Joe Catholic, a lay apostolate designed by men for men. Our mission is to aid lay men in answering the universal call to holiness and equipping them to be the spiritual leaders of their families. Simply put, we help people learn, live and share their faith.
I recently completed my Masters in pastoral theology from Ave Maria University and work as the Magnet Program Coordinator at the Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet in Dallas.