Broken Rudders

viet-nam-1989107_1920

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?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

First, do no harm.

1479243135156-01.jpeg

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 54; 146, Habakkuk 3:1-10 (11-15) 16-18, James 3:1-12, Luke 17:1-10


Primum non nocere – Latin for “first do no harm” – is a widely accepted principle of the medical community. It may seem obvious that the art of healing would be opposed to harm, but medicine is less cut-and-dried than we’d like. Physicians need a healthy ego. Especially in life-threatening situations, hesitation and self-doubt can have serious consequences for the patient. Yet decisive action needs to be tempered by humility, for the wrong treatment may make things worse and our intentions can’t prevent that.

James advised early Christians against becoming teachers, because teachers are held to higher standards of judgment and we all make plenty of mistakes. He explained many mistakes involve the tongue (our words) and the damage caused by its improper use. In matters of faith, it takes a certain amount of ego to claim to be a teacher, and even more humility to be a good one. Without the right balance, teachers can do more harm than good to a faith community. There’s a difference between sharing and discussing our faith, and establishing ourselves as authorities. Much caution is advised for the latter.

Acknowledging there are countless opportunities to make mistakes, Jesus warned his disciples: “It 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.” How do we cause people to stumble? Well, the next thing he talked about was forgiving people who sin against us (note he didn’t mention forgiving those who sin against others, because neither the offense nor the forgiveness are ours). If they offend us seven times a day, we are to forgive them each time they repent. Think of it as a physician who tells her patient at every annual checkup to eat less and exercise more; the patient is contrite and promises to do better, and though it never happens, the physician retains the patient.

What is the connection between forgiveness and stumbling? That may be for a teacher to reveal. Until you find one, try to do no harm.

Comfort: Repentance is not a one-time offer.

Challenge: Find some spiritual exercises to build your forgiveness muscles.

Prayer: Loving and merciful God, grant me the strength, humility, and wisdom to share your love with others even when I don’t want to. Amen.

Discussion: Who do you have trouble forgiving? What impact does that have on your spiritual and emotional well-being?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group or follow @comf_and_chall on Twitter. You’ll  have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!