Reading for Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost: James 3:1-18
Peace be with you!
You have probably heard the quote: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”[i] We might claim this is true, but James understood the true effect words can have on their audience. Words can be a blessing or a curse. Individuals who have been mentally abused often battle depression and low self-esteem, because someone said they were not good enough. A positive role model can lift people up and lead them to have great success, because someone saw something in them and gave them the courage to achieve their dreams.
James says, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. … With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so” (James 3:5a, 9-10 NRSV).
The way you speak to others says a lot about who you are as a person and as a Christian. If you have negative views about yourself and/or the world, you will complain and bring others down with you. Someone who mentally abuse others are depressed and have low self-esteem of their own, and they need to feel like they have power someone or something. As an individual who was mentally abused, I know how helpless you feel when you under someone’s thumb and how exploitative the person who mentally abuses another person can be. The person who is mentally abusive will use their words to be in control of someone. This is one example of what James means when he says, “the tongue is a fire” (James 3:6a NRSV). Words can tear people down and make them feel unworthy of forgiveness, grace, and love. They can lead people astray from what is most important—God and his love for them.
With cyberbullying on the rise, we have begun to understand the effect words have on individuals—and words do hurt. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in their 2007 “Indicators of School Crime and Safety Report,” 28% of youth between twelve and eighteen report being bullied in the last six months at their school, with about one-fifth of the 28% reporting that the bullying occurred once or twice a week.[ii] A study done by Yale University reported 7% to 9% of the individuals who are bullied are more likely to think about suicide. About 69% of teenagers have regular access to their own computer and cell phone and use social media, and 42% of these teenagers reported being cyberbullied.[iii] Words have just as much effect as being physically attacked.
Bullying and cyberbullying can even lead individuals who have been bullied to kill themselves—to end the very life God gave them. James warns us against speaking out of envy and selfish ambition by being boastful or lying, because it results in disorder and wickedness, which are the work of the devil (James 3:14-16). James appeals to us to speak with wisdom and mercy (James 3:17).
Like a horse with a bridle, you can control what you say and do (James 3:2-3). A handler can control the whole body of a horse with a bridle. What you say controls what the rest of your body says. If you speak words of anger, you may yell, turn red in the face, and stomp off. If you speak happy words, you may shout with joy, be giggly, and jump up and down. When we control our words, we speak with wisdom and love, which yields mercy and good fruits without partiality and hypocrisy (James 3:17).
In his interview on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on September 14, 2015 (minute 15:28), Vice President Joe Biden said, “My mom always said, ‘Remember no one is better than you, and you are better than no one. Remember everyone is equal.’” When we speak with wisdom, we are forced to treat everyone with love and as an equal, because Jesus commands us to love our God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. By doing this, we bring heaven into the world. God’s grace and love can then spread in the world, and our words become a blessing to whoever hears them.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for giving us your wisdom. Help us to speak with wisdom and love to bring heaven to earth. Lead us to be your disciples and to do your will in the world. Thank you for giving us your love and grace. Amen.
[ii] Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin, “Bullying, Cyberbullying, and Suicide,” Suicide Research: Official Journal of the International Academy for Suicide Research 14 (July 2010): 206-221, http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Justin_Patchin/publication/45289246_Bullying_cyberbullying_and_suicide/links/55098f1f0cf26ff55f85eaa2.pdf.
[iii] “Bullying Suicide Statistics,” http://nobullying.com/bullying-suicide-statistics/.