Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Monday 25 October |
Saint of the Day: Sts Gavin, Protus, and Januarius
Aleteia logo
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

Mass prep — 30 seconds/3 points: The Roman punishment of the millstone

millstone

Pelevina Ksinia | Shutterstock

Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik - published on 09/25/21

Jesus' expresses his concern not just for children but for anyone young in the faith.

What is the literal meaning of the Gospel about the millstone around the neck?

This Sunday’s Gospel is Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

1. Understanding Jesus’ powerful words

It is clear that Jesus did not mean murdering a man. So, what does the statement mean: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

Millstones are two huge circular stones with holes in the middle, placed one atop the other in order to grind grain.

2. Keywords

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin.

First, the word “scandal” (scandalon) is used in this context in the original. It originally meant to trigger a trap or snare. In the Bible, it literally means to cause someone to “stumble” and fall. It is also synonymous with temptation, which is like setting a trap for a person.

Second, Jesus warns against making people worse, being the cause of sin, or making “one of the little ones” fall. We need to note that Jesus is not talking about children (paidia) but “the little ones (microi) who believe.” So, here, Jesus is not just concerned about scandalizing children; his words have a much broader sense. He is concerned with scandalizing the “little ones who believe,” including adults who are growing in faith.

This passage has been often interpreted in the sense of scandal and crime against children and young people who have been sexually abused, including by clergy.

It would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

The Romans in Jesus’ time gruesomely executed people by drowning them with a millstone around the neck (katapontismos), as Josephus Flavius attests in his writings.

This punishment also included the fact that such a victim would have no grave and burial; and, in the culture of the Middle East, this was considered the greatest punishment.

In this context, it must be emphasized that Christ, who preached the Gospel of love, life, and forgiveness, certainly did not advocate such a tragic punishment. The Gospel passage is purely hypothetical, using the expression “it would be better” for such a man to have a millstone put around his neck and to be thrown into the sea, rather than have him become a cause of sin/stumbling for one of these little ones in the faith.

3. Today

We are helped in our understanding of this Gospel passage by Simon Légasse, who wrote “the terrible fate of the drowning man with a stone around his neck is nothing compared to what awaits at God’s judgment the one who caused someone to stumble.”

Tags:
Sunday Readings
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
Marinella Bandini
Exclusive: Carlo Acutis as seen by his mother
2
PADRE PIO
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio replied to John Paul II’s letter with a miracle
3
VENERABLE SANDRA SABATTINI
Philip Kosloski
Meet Sandra Sabattini, a newly beatified 22-year-old
4
Theresa Civantos Barber
St. John Paul II’s perfect advice for lasting love in marriage
5
POPE JOHN PAUL II
Cerith Gardiner
A collection of Pope John Paul II’s quotes on some of life’s most...
6
WEB2-Bishop_Michael.jpg
John Burger
Once considered for top post in Anglican Church, former bishop be...
7
peace
Philip Kosloski
How kindness begins in your heart
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.