The Reconciliation Lectionary gives four passages from the Letter of James, and this post reviews one of the two lengthy offerings.
To whom much is given …
Not many of you should become teachers,
my brothers and sisters,
for you realize that we will be judged more strictly,
for we all fall short in many respects.
That small bit may be enough to spark many of us in a sincere examination of conscience. But this passage is less about the sins of leadership. Let the parents, role models, and even the volunteers among us breathe easier–just a little.
James suggests that everybody sins with the tongue. Is the tongue an organ of original sin? Let’s read a bit more. And pardon the exclusive language …
If anyone does not fall short in speech,
he is a perfect man,
able to bridle his whole body also.
If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us,
we also guide their whole bodies.
It is the same with ships:
even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds,
they are steered by a very small rudder
wherever the pilot’s inclination wishes.
This is what James is driving at:
In the same way the tongue is a small member
and yet has great pretensions.
Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze.
The tongue is also a fire.
It exists among our members as a world of malice,
defiling the whole body
and setting the entire course of our lives on fire,
itself set on fire by Gehenna.
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature,
can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species,
but no human being can tame the tongue.
I don’t think this is exaggeration at all. And today we might add our computer keyboards and online postings. Restlessness indeed sums it up well:
It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With it we bless the Lord and Father,
and with it we curse human beings
who are made in the likeness of God.
From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.
My brothers and sisters, this need not be so.
Does a spring gush forth from the same opening
both pure and brackish water?
Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, produce olives, or a grapevine figs?
Neither can salt water yield fresh.
This is a strong passage. Would it be well-used at a parish’s communal liturgy? A preacher would really have to know the community for it to be effective. When confronted with our own sins, especially cherished ones, it can be hard to see the text really means us and not somebody else.
It’s a rather long Scripture to use with individual reconciliation. But it bears a serious reflection, as at one time or another, most of us have problems with communicating. What do you think?