This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news
3Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.
How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
James is fun: he aims at a very practical sort of religion guided by his own shrewdness and the wisdom of his tradition, which may have been Jewish, although scholars point to Greek traditions from which he may also have drawn. Probably most of what he wrote had been written before but he enjoys adapting it for his purpose.
Most of us know what he’s talking about here: the capacity of our speaking to betray more than we intended. Once our tongues are loosened, what we say sometimes surprises even ourselves, as resentments, jealousies, insecurities and desires to dominate surface in our words and cannot be denied. This is especially true of those of us who have a ready tongue and are able to entertain and influence others by our gift of speech.
James’s warning is entertainingly expressed. Perhaps he knew the sin he was castigating.
15As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.
There is an obvious “story-telling” character to this passage. Mark’s point is that a) Pilate recognises Jesus innocence, but makes the fatal mistake of giving the Jewish leaders a choice of favours. (Given what he knew he could hardly have been surprised by their choice.) b) Jesus neither accepts nor denies the title of King of the Jews, that is, Messiah. c) the episode has the ironical result that a man of peace is sent to the cross while a member of the resistance is set free.
It seems unlikely that Pilate was as inept as this narrative suggests. Mark however is using source material which may have already been influenced by Isaiah 53 (as a sheep before its hearers is dumb so he opened not his mouth…he was counted as one of rebellious..) or perhaps Mark allowed that passage to guide his composition. His purpose is to portray Jesus as the suffering servant of God, “by whose wounds, we are healed.”
Although the narrative of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus is told with great sobriety we should not assume from that its historical accuracy. There is hardly a detail in the whole account which might not have been suggested by prophecy. The gospels don’t tell us what happened but what the later Christian community received and believed about Jesus’ death. In particular they believed that the ignominious death of this one man was an “eschatological event”, that is, it brought a whole “world” to an end and inaugurated a new one. Although human beings, including Jesus, played their parts in the event, the script was written by God.