If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.
Last weekend, as I enjoyed the sights and sounds of Christmas in São Luís with my family, I came upon a scene that could only happen in 2020. In the middle of one of the central parks of our city there is a fountain, and at the center of that fountain is the statue of an Indian maiden – in honor of the native peoples who were here when the Europeans first arrived on our shores in 1612. I affectionately refer to her as “Pocahontas”. And, wouldn’t you know it, poor Pocahontas’s face is now covered with a mask.
Later, a short google search informed me that São Luís is by no means alone in this exercise in futility – other cities here in Brazil, and even around the world, are, in what has to be one of the most useless displays of public awareness ever, putting masks on their statues.
I mean, seriously. Is there anybody on this planet who thinks to themselves “Well…I wasn’t going to wear a mask today, but that statue of Bruce Lee is wearing one, so I guess I’d better mask up”?
By this introduction I don’t mean to add to the confusion of whether masks are beneficial or not. Our government has done much more along those lines than our poor powers to add or detract. What I do want to point out, however, is the absolute uselessness of putting masks on statuary. And then I want to compare that uselessness to someone who tries to patch up a corrupt heart with religious activity, because that is the level of absurdity that James is getting at in this passage.
In today’s verse, James gives us two symptoms to look for in diagnosing a person whose religiosity is a useless sham. First, he cannot control his tongue. This is significant, because as Jesus told us in Matthew 12:34, and again in Matthew 15:11-20, the tongue is the barometer of the heart. A lack of control of our words indicates that their source is corrupt.
Second, he is absolutely convinced of his own spirituality. The stream of evil that proceeds from his lips is accompanied by an arrogant and overbearing attitude of superiority, especially when it comes to religious matters. It is important to note that in Matthew 12:34, mentioned above, Jesus is talking to the religious leaders. They had not only convinced themselves of their spiritual authority, but had also convinced those around them. Jesus, however, saw through the white-wash to the corrupt tombs of their souls.
So as we examine this verse, it behooves us to ask the Holy Spirit to shine the light on the true condition of our heart to us, and then, in His strength, remove, piece by putrid piece, the corruption He reveals.
Any other kind of religiosity is about as effective as putting a mask on “Pocahontas”.
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