And this series resumes. The first passage is from the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
33 “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
I was drawn to this passage because of Jesus’ admonition against careless words. Speaking without thinking is a habit that I sometimes engage in, despite recognizing it for the flaw it is. It never hurts to be reminded of the consequence of careless speech. Warnings against careless speech are quite common throughout Scripture, and for good reason. It can bring about your downfall, as the Book of Sirach warns:
9 Do not winnow with every wind,
nor follow every path:
the double-tongued sinner does that.
10 Be steadfast in your understanding,
and let your speech be consistent.
11 Be quick to hear,
and be deliberate in answering.
12 If you have understanding, answer your neighbor;
but if not, put your hand on your mouth.
13 Glory and dishonor come from speaking,
and a man’s tongue is his downfall.
14 Do not be called a slanderer,
and do not lie in ambush with your tongue;
for shame comes to the thief,
and severe condemnation to the double-tongued.
St. James also warned us to be careful in our speech:
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all make many mistakes, and if any one makes no mistakes in what he says he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body also. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses that they may obey us, we guide their whole bodies. 4 Look at the ships also; though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So the tongue is a little member and boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!
6 And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening fresh water and brackish? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh.
I suppose that if Hell is our own little lake of fire, then our tongue will act as the match to set the blaze if we aren’t careful.