The Perils of Casual Conversation

Matthew 12:33-37

As we discovered last week Jesus has just performed one of the greatest miracles of His whole ministry. A man is brought to Him and this poor soul is in as wretched a situation as a man or woman could ever be in. He is demon possessed; he is not in control of himself, dark fears haunt him, he acts in a subhuman way he seems to be more animal than human being. To add to that misery he can neither speak nor see so this man misery is complete he lives in a dark, haunted world. Then Jesus heals him: he is lucid, he scan see, he can speak and the crowd are amazed. There amazement goes far beyond the sense of wonder when you see a magician perform a great trick, or a footballer score a stunning goal; what they have seen has no human explanation. What induces wonder in them is not the miracle they have seen but the thought of who could perform such a miracle. They are startled into thinking that the promised Son of David who would be the great Saviour of God’s people was in their midst.

This is a beautiful and wonderful moment for anyone to come to when you begin to realise that Jesus does belong to any normal category; that whatever box you try and put Him into he does not fit; he is too big. He is a great teacher but then He is so much more than that. He performs these miracles, but He is so much more than that. His love for His disciples is breath taking, but again He is so much more than a saintly person.

When I was little my mother always had a thermometer to check if we were really ill when we said we were not fit to go to school. I used to love it when the thermometer broke because inside was mercury and if you caught the mercury in a tin you could play with it. Mercury is of course a metal that is liquid at room temperature and the fun was you could never catch it you could never put your finger on it, you could never catch it. Jesus is like that you can never put your finger on exactly what is so special about Him, He always bigger than the category you try to put Him in. This is where faith’s journey begins, awe at who Jesus is and what He does.

When the Pharisees saw these first stirrings of faith in the hearts of the crowd they were contemptuous of the faith of the ordinary folk and even more contemptuous of Jesus. With a sneer they dismiss the miracle saying, ‘It is by Beelzebub the prince of demons Jesus casts out demons.’

This sneering dismissal of His ministry and crushing of the nascent faith of the people stirs Jesus anger. Last week we saw how in sneering at Jesus and the wonderful miracle He performed in restoring this man to normality they were well down the road to committing the unforgiveable sin. When forgiveness is itself held in contempt , when mercy and grace are sneered and the wonderful effect forgiveness has in the lives of men and women is ridiculed then what hope is there?

But Jesus does not leave it there He presses on and lays bare all that lies at the root of the sneering words of the Pharisees a corrupt, degenerate heart.

Here Jesus is saying that it is out of what we treasure in our hearts that our words come, and so our words reveal what we treasure.

Yesterday I attended a service of thanksgiving for the life of Tom Morton, Tom was minister is Stonelaw in Rutherglen and he was by ‘bishop’ during my probationary year. As a tribute to him one of his nieces read a letter she sent to him not long before he died. She began by saying that as a little girl she marvelled at his dress sense. If it was a beautiful sunny day he would wear a powder blue jumper over a light shirt with a matching tie and she longed for him to sit down so that she could glimpse the matching socks as a girl she learned from Tom that there was a great deal of pleasure to be found in the simplest things like ensuring your socks matched your jumper and that as a tribute to him she was wearing a purple top, purple socks and purple tights. She spoke of how the time he spent with her made her feel valuable as a child. Then in later life when she knew great sorrow and pain she spoke of how Tom listened, trying to understand every word, never offering advice, never judging showing only unconditional love and of how through his listening she found healing and hope. As he laying dying in hospital one of the nurses asked if she was his daughter she broke down and said no she was just his niece but counted it the greatest privilege in her life to know him as her uncle.

From her words we can see how that lady loved and treasured her uncle; her words are a window to her soul and through that window we see her discernment of his skills as a pastor and her appreciation of the love and understanding he gave to people over a long ministry. What doo her words reveal of what she treasures? Joy in life, a love that understands, that loves unconditionally, that is her treasure more vital to her than anything else.

Now contrast that with the Pharisees and their crude sneering dismissal of Jesus as one who casts out demons by the power of Beelzebub. What do their words reveal of what is the treasure of their hearts?

It is easy to see that they do not treasure Christ. They do not treasure the healing of a poor wretch. They do not treasure the ordinary folk finding the reality of God.
What do they love? I think their principle love is their own wit. They think they understand everything; they have a witty sharp word with which they can crush people, dismiss them and put them down. They are in love with themselves; they have the positions of honour they have the degrees and the titles they have no need of the carpenter from Nazareth. Their words reveal a kind of smug contentment because in their own eyes they consider themselves very important.

What was their treasure? Position, status, power, a razor sharp mind that can choose just the right words to cut people down to size.

So we must ask ourselves what do our words reveal about us what we treasure? If you were to write a letter to Jesus what would it say? What would it re-veal of what His life and ministry means to you? Not some formal prayer but a letter in your own words, no matter the spelling or the grammar, what would you say to Him. Now read the letter over and think of what the letter reveals about you.

Or think of someone here in church and you had to write to them telling them what you thought of them; a frank assessment of what your reaction to them, who they are what they have done, their faults and failings, their gifts and their talents. Now read the letter over; what does the letter reveal about you? That is what Jesus is saying here. Your opinions matter, not in what you say about others, Jesus warns us repeatedly not to sit on God’s throne and pass judgement on others, but in what your opinions say about you; what they reveal about your soul.

I have received one or two poison pen letters in my time one reading them what has always struck me is how twisted inside the person who wrote them must be. Equally one has also received letters of encouragement and such letters always have a gentle reasonableness to them. Our words are a window to our souls.

Jesus goes on to speak not just about a carefully constructed letter but also about our casual conversation and what reveals about us. The kind of words in mind here are not so much casual conversation about the weather, or words in casual conversation that contain a half-truth but rather words that appear neutral but can lead to wrong doing. One thinks immediately of Pilate’s words about Jesus to the chief priests ‘I find no basis of a charge against this man.’

The truth was Jesus life had been glorious in every way. Even at His trial on trumped up charges, with a string of witness telling patent, contradictory lies Jesus is gracious and says nothing. His silence is so eloquent; He says nothing, even then he will not condemn. But all Pilate can say about Him is, ‘I find no basis of a charge against Him.’ Easy words that reveal so much about Pilate’s indifference to truth, easy words that seek to avoid responsibility. But Jesus speaks of a day when Pilate would have to stand before God and God would say to him, ‘Is all you have to say about Son is that you could find no fault in Him? How do you explain that?’ A day is coming when easy words will not do. It was easy for the Pharisees to say, ‘It is by Beelzebub prince of demons he casts out demons.’ But a day was coming when easy words would not do.

So Jesus finishes by warning the Pharisees, ‘By your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.’

If at this point you are saying to yourself with a hidden sneer, ‘So we will be saved by saying nice things about people and condemned for saying nasty things about people!’ such a thought is an example of the easy words Jesus has just warned us of.

Think back to that poor wretch the demon possessed, blind dumb man Jesus healed. Think of the letter he could write to the Father thanking Him for the gift of Christ Jesus.

‘Dear Beloved Father; that you for sending your Son Christ Jesus into this world. Till He touched me I was not in control of myself, I acted like an animal most of the time and the darkest fears haunted me. I had no eyes to see the glory and wonder of the world you made, the beauty of Christ Jesus, the wonder of all that he did. Neither did I possess a tongue to praise you for the glories of your wonderful creating and saving work. I was a lost wretch. But in tender love Christ Jesus healed me and set me free to know you, love you and worship you. But for Him I would be in the gutter, now I live in the light of His grace and mercy. It is my joy and delight to praise your glorious name for granting me so a glorious Saviour. I remain your obedient servant, the Man who was possessed, blind and dumb.’

Could that be your letter to the Father? They are the words of a justified sinner.