It happens every fall, at least in the great state of Alabama: husbands pack up their guns and camo and head into the woods. It’s huntin’ season, baby, and the only thing that might keep a fella in town is the lure of college football. Either way, a wife who doesn’t hunt and doesn’t prefer to watch football (the second is kinda rare in these parts) often finds herself with too much alone time and not enough cooperation from her main man. It’s not uncommon for a woman to joke she’s a “football widow,” or a “hunting widow” until the season is over and her husband “returns.” Only problem is, she has no idea what it means to be a widow.
I do, because I am one. And I could get very annoyed when I hear this “joke,” although I probably used the term myself when my husband was alive. He was an ESPN junkie (forget football widow- he loved it all) and at times he got stuck in workaholic behavior. I sympathize with the wife who feels like she cannot get her husband to dial in to the family for weeks on end. But sometimes I am tempted to take offense at the casual use of the word “widow” because that is an unfortunate reality in my life. However, I don’t want to be touchy or find reasons to get my feelings hurt, especially when there is no evil intent.
Much of the time, whatever someone else says or does is NOT ABOUT ME. The woman who calls herself a “football widow” isn’t trying to hurt me- she is expressing her own sadness or frustration with her husband’s behavior. That has nothing to do with me. If I can stay focused on what she is experiencing rather than thinking about my own feelings, maybe I can help her by listening instead of hurting myself with resentment. If I don’t make everything about me, I am actually in a better position to love others and be kind to myself.
Which brings us to the holiday season. Let’s imagine an example: When your great-aunt Millie walks in the door Thanksgiving Day, she will be carrying her famous pecan pie, but she may also be hauling a whole invisible sack of grievances that make her irritable and wary. Many of her resentments could be years old, and she will be so sore from carrying them all around that she will be quick to find reasons to be offended again. (“He will never change. She always treats me like that.”) Millie might be aggrieved by your politics (what kind of awful person voted for him/her?), your children’s behavior (not polite enough), or where you have her seated at the lunch table. She might even be mad you asked her to make the pie. Who knows? Millie isn’t fun to be around, but no one is more miserable than Millie herself.
Millie has made a lifelong habit of taking the bait of offense. The New Testament Greek word for offence is skandalon, which literally means the trigger of a trap. Translators also use “snare,” “stumbling block,” and “cause for sin” to translate skandalon.* Jesus demonstrates that we have the freedom to avoid the trap by refusing the bait. When Jesus first begins to teach His disciples that He will have to suffer and die, Peter argues with Him, saying that this will never happen. Jesus responds; “Get behind me Satan! You are an offense (skandalon) to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16: 23) In other words, Peter has unknowingly presented Jesus with the temptation to avoid His Father’s will. Jesus saw the stumbling block immediately and refused it adamantly. When I see a trap in my path, threatening to divert me from my Father’s will to love Him and love my neighbor, I can follow Jesus’s example. If I want to stay free from bitterness and resentment, I will learn to avoid taking the offense when it comes.
Up to this point, we have largely discussed unintentional slights, originating in self-absorption, insensitivity or ignorance. What about those times times when offense felt practically thrust upon us? All of have sinned and been sinned against; every single one of us could make legitimate claims to bitterness and resentment if we wanted to. “It is impossible that no offenses should come…” (Luke 17:1) The issue, as always, is how we respond.
Take a look at the story of Joseph in Genesis. Jacob openly favors his son Joseph over his ten older brothers, giving Joseph a beautiful woven coat and his other sons a whole pile of hurt feelings. Joseph, unaware or perhaps smug, brags about his prophetic dreams, which reveal that someday he will rule over his older brothers. Infuriated by the whole situation, the brothers sell Joseph to Egyptian slave traders and exact revenge on their dad by telling the old man his beloved son is dead.
Joseph endures slavery, unjust accusation, prison and abandonment over the next eleven years, but his suffering does not go to waste. During that time he learns to rest in the favor of God and to respond to his captors with incredible integrity. God blesses him in the middle of terrible circumstances. Through his prophetic gift, Joseph trades the prison for the palace and becomes Pharoah’s right hand man, and then he meets his treacherous brothers again. They come to Egypt because they are starving and hope to buy grain. Joseph has ample opportunity and motive to exact revenge, and who could blame him? He has suffered enough.
Joseph refuses the bait. It’s not easy. He doesn’t just welcome them with open arms, but instead wrestles awhile with the temptation to test and punish his brothers. But Joseph has allowed God to keep his heart soft. He takes the kindness God has shown him- a sinner in need of forgiveness- and gives that same kindness and forgiveness to his undeserving brothers. It’s a beautiful picture of the grace that Jesus extends to us all.
No one in history had more reason to take offense than Jesus.
His brothers reject Him and His mom doubts Him. Mark 3:21
His cousin doesn’t believe He is who He says He is. Luke 7:20
One of His disciples betrays Him for money. Matthew 26:14-16
The leaders of His faith want to kill Him. John 11:53
All His disciples desert Him when He is arrested and brought to trial. Mark 14:50
The crowds who worship Him on Sunday trade His life for a common criminal’s on Friday. Matthew 21:1-11, 27:21
The government official who knows He is innocent fails to protect Him. Matthew 27: 18-19
One of His closest friends denies Him three times. John 18:15-27
The people He came to save torture Him, humiliate Him, and kill Him on a cross. The Gospels
And Jesus responds: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
By His grace we are forgiven. By His mercy, we receive the grace to “forgive each other, just as in Christ God forgave [us].” (Ephesians 4:32) Let us pray for the wisdom to see the skandalon before we take the bait. Let us pray for the grace to forgive when deep hurts and painful wounds are unavoidable. It will be to your glory, and the glory of Your heavenly Father, if you can overlook or forgive an offence. (Proverbs 19:11)
*Jesus Himself is often referred to a "stumbling block" for the Israelites who refuse to accept that he is the Messiah.