Broken Rudders

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Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, 1 Kings 9:24-10:13, James 3:1-12, Mark 15:1-11


The Book of James teaches the tongue is small but capable of great feats. James compares this relatively small body part to a tiny rudder guiding large ships through strong winds. For this reason he warns religious teaching is a perilous pursuit, as our tongues are difficult to tame and when used carelessly cause misdirection and harm to ourselves and others. Teachers, James says, are held to a higher standard because a spring cannot produce both brackish and fresh waters – that is, because people rely on them for truth, their instruction must neither contaminate nor dilute the Gospel.

The chief priests and other leaders appearing in Mark 15 would have served several roles, including teachers. When Pontius Pilate realized Jesus had been brought to him because these leaders were jealous, he offered to free a prisoner at the discretion of the people. He hoped they would select Jesus. These leaders used their tongues to convince the people to free Barabbas instead. Technically Jesus and Barabbas would both have been accused of insurrection, but Barabbas was also a murderer. The chief priests used their powerful tongues to steer the crowd to free a killer instead of a messiah.

Even today many a preacher grows a flock by appealing to people’s baser nature and focusing on the “enemies” of the church. In the Western world, authentic persecution of Christians is rare, and systematic persecution is non-existent. Yet some preachers insist on targeting a group (when one group is not politically viable for attack they will move on to the next) and claiming specific people are the enemy we need to fight, all the while twisting the message to seem like love.

We do have real enemies, but Jesus taught us to love them. He also taught us what to fight: poverty, injustice, oppression, and the planks in our own eyes.  They know binding Christ’s message to hate crucifies undeserving victims. They open our eyes to how Christ’s love transforms us, and through us transforms the world.


Comfort: It’s perfectly acceptable to question your teachers. The good ones will welcome and even encourage it. 

Challenge: In most situations experienced sailors rely on subtle adjustments, not sweeping gestures. This is a good model for using our tongues.

Prayer: God of peace, may my words be pleasing to you and beneficial to your people. Amen. 

Discussion: Who was your favorite teacher and why?

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