This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
“Hollywood Reporter” apologises to McCarthy era victims
Taming the Tongue
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.
The author moves from emphasising the special responsibility of teachers to the issue of speaking in general. The folk wisdom of Israel lies behind his diatribe against the loose tongue, that untamable creature. He pictures it as the rudder of the human being which can direct the whole person into calm waters or on to a reef. When uncontrolled it has an almost demonic capacity for wickedness.
There is something dangerous in the human capacity for speech, as if by using words we can create reality. Loose talk may be the result of malice, fear, excitement, desire for acceptance, drunkenness, argument, hurt and many other conditions. Small wonder that it is so common. The advent of what we call social media has increased the danger of loose talk. The sending of an email, a text, a tweet (or even a BLOG) can be almost instantaneous and cannot be then deleted. Communication can be virtually anonymous, lowering the sense of responsibility. Misinformation, slander, prejudice, lies, gossip, bullying, and above all, a pervasive gobbiness, are encouraged by social media. If our communal life is not to be polluted by huge mounds of verbal trash, we need to inculcate care and delicacy in the use of these means of communication. This passage from the Letter of James might be a good starting place for this education.
Some Sayings of Jesus
17Jesus* said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!2It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.3Be on your guard! If another disciple* sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive.4And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, “I repent”, you must forgive.’
5 The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’6The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a* mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.
7 ‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”?8Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”?9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” ’
The little ones here are not children but rather disciples of any age who are part of God’s family. Causing another person to stumble in their journey of faith is a terrible possibility against which disciples are warned. But if any disciple is hurt by another, she should challenge the one who has done this. If the culprit apologizes, however, the victim must forgive, again and again. This clear command is made so that the climate of forgiveness created by God should not be destroyed by mutual condemnation or revenge. This seemed very difficult to Jesus’ disciples who reckoned it would require an increase of faith, but Jesus told them that if they’d any faith at all, the impossible could be done.
Then Luke adds a parable which may make us a little uncomfortable because it uses, as do many of Jesus’ parables, the relationship of master and slave. Frequently this is concealed in the English bible by its translation of Greek doulos as “servant” rather than as “slave.” The meaning is normally “slave.” Here God’s slaves are not to give themselves airs because they’ve rendered service. After all, they’ve only done what they’ve been told to do. Slaves don’t get thanked for doing their duty. This may seem ungracious, but we should reflect that in this case God’s commands are not for his good but for the good of his “slaves”. Why should they be thanked for doing what is for their own good? In this way Jesus challenges the whole notion that we can gain credit with God: whenever we obey God’s commandments we benefit ourselves and the family of God’s creatures. Jesus’ rigor on this issue strangles religious self-righteousness at birth.