“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to trip up…it would be better for them to have a huge millstone hung around their neck and be drowned out in the deep sea.” Matthew 18:6
Jesus could just as well be speaking here about former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and the many powerful people who colluded with him to keep four decades of child sexual abuse secret- all under the guise of Sandusky’s charity, The Second Mile (a foster home to protect the most vulnerable of children, those without parents). I get sick just thinking about the evil perpetrated here- first, by a middle-aged predator with a fetish for anal and oral sex who preyed on young boys, and then by an institution that deemed its reputation as a champion in college football more sacred than the lives of these little ones.
Even sadder and more disturbing is that we have seen this all before. Catholic priests sexually molesting the children in their care. The highest echelons of church leadership sweeping the abuse under the rug.
The lesson? That it is almost a law of the universe that power corrupts. That wherever power is present, whether in the church or in college football, we need to be suspicious. We need to be asking who “the least of these” are. The church’s witness to Jesus Christ is credible only insofar as the church stands in solidarity with the powerless. Christians need to be on the side of “the little ones.”
Because at heart the revelations about Sandusky and his co-collaborators are a deeply tragic story about how power, when it corrupts, always chooses “the least of these” for victims. The “least of these” in the form of nameless little boys such as “Victim 1, 2, or 10.” They at one time must have believed Sandusky was their savior, a ticket out of an already dysfunctional childhood- only to see their hopes demolished.
As a mother, I know that as irritating and exasperating as children can often be, these little persons also come wired to believe in the goodness of God and the world around them. They come with built-in reserves of faith, be it in Santa Claus or Jesus Christ. “God consciousness” is how the nineteenth-century, German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher termed it.
You have to do something pretty terrible to destroy that God-consciousness and to make one of these “little ones” stumble. So terrible, Jesus says, that it would be better if a great big millstone- a huge, heavy stone used to grind wheat- were tied around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the deepest part of the ocean. The consolation here is that if the violations of Sandusky and his pals against the least of these fill us with disgust, they are an even greater abomination to God.
When back in 1998 State College police were investigating Sandusky’s shower escapades with Victim 6, Sandusky was quoted as saying this to the victim’s mother: “I wish I could get forgiveness.” The molestations continued. Sandusky wanted forgiveness insofar as it wouldn’t require him to stop showering with little boys.
It is hard to say whether God’s judgment in the form of a millstone around the neck precludes forgiveness. There are few things, I suspect, that are totally unforgivable in the light of eternity. For the time being, I’m satisfied to know that in God’s scheme Sandusky and company will be spending their waking hours with phytoplankton on the ocean floor.
What I’m more concerned about now is what happens to “the least of these” in this story. Where will they be five or ten years from now? Will they find restoration and healing? Or, will the great millstone drag them down, too, so that the tentacles of an evil system strangle these precious, young lives in their grip? Will they become perpetrators some day like Sandusky?
In your infinite goodness, have mercy, O Lord.