Key verse: "Out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and curse; my brethren, these things ought so not to be" [James 3:10]

A legendary story goes like this: Priests were sacrificing animals as part of their rituals. King sent word to the chief-priest, "Send the best and the worst parts of the sacrificial victim." Obviously the king expected muscle or liver. The priest cut the animal's tongue and sent it to the king through the messenger. Seeing that the priest sent only the blood-dripping animal tongue, the king got angry and summoned the priest to face charges for insulting the king. The priest came and tendered his defense, "My Lord, you wanted the best and the worst part. Truly, tongue is the best and the worst part at the same time for tongue makes one noble saint or worst scoundrel." Though animals lack faculty to make use of tongue either way this story teaches a lesson. These days a growing trend everywhere is that pets are loved and cared more than one's own kids and human beings. Driving the car with pet-dog in front seat or in driver's lap and kids fastened in rear-seat is common sight. A fascinated newcomer inquired why people love pets more than their kids; "animals do not talk" was the ready answer.

Epistle reading for "Sunday of all departed" is from James 3:1-12. Great Lent is at hand once again. This is a very good portion for our meditation during this Lenten season. Lent is not simply avoiding certain kind of food but freeing the mind from foul thoughts. One who can tame his/her tongue is surely on the way to success. One's speaking habit chiefly depends on hereditary and upbringing. If a child grows with parents who frequently argue, fight and use profane words that child is sure to become contentious, quarrelsome and cruel. If a child grows with selfish and jealous parents, that child is sure to become selfish, envious and devoid of mercy. If a child grows in abusive and immoral environment that child is sure to become aggressive and criminal. Many children born have some form of mental or physical retardation because of immoral lifestyle, alcohol and drugs during pregnancy. Don't you oftentimes marvel why people habitually demean and insult others; are always profane and sarcastic. People's social behavior has a direct bearing on their childhood life. One who grew up without self-esteem can hardly respect others. St James believes that habits especially use of tongue could be improved by honestly practicing 'control'. Employing "bits in horse' mouth" and "rudder" in ship are effective means of taming. Without self-awareness control is impossible. Controlling the tongue could permeate social peace, win many friends, heal many ills and safeguard against many injuries.

Pharaoh was judged by his own words, Exodus 10:28-29. Jesus said, "Out of your own mouth I will judge you," Lk 19:25. Whoever says to his brother 'Raca' shall be in danger of the council. Whoever says 'you fool' shall be in danger of hellfire," Mat 5:22. Careless and foul words merit fatal judgment to oneself. Imagine then, how terrible a fate awaits liars, slanderers and gossipers! The greatest gift one can give to others is to say a good word about them or at least not to offend. Solomon talks about good and bad words, "A good word makes the heart glad," Pr 12:25. "A word spoken in due season; how good is it!" "A soft answer takes away wrath but grievous words stir up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge aright but the mouth of the fools pours out foolishness," Pr 15:1, 2, 23. One thing that our youngsters learned from us, Malayalee elders is; we are fond of gossip. Without reason and regardless of surroundings we gossip for hours. Most of the times such pleasure-sake gossips are vainglory, slanderous and character assassinations; how better our society would be if we stop this malicious habit?

Jesus said, 'food which goes into the body does not defile human being but words that come out of the mouth defiles,' Mat 15:11. What one thinks in heart comes out first in the form of words and then as actions; first defiles his own self and then defiles others also. "Tree is known by its fruits," so man is known by his words. No one is by birth friend or enemy to another but by his words. "Injury by an arrow might heal in due course of time; A branch if cut off, the tree will shoot branches again; but an injury in mind which a foul word caused remains forever," said Kunchan Nambiar. David describes the quality of the righteous who shall dwell in God's holy hill; "He who speaks the truth in his heart; he who does not backbite with his tongue; nor takes up a reproach against his friend," Ps 15:3. "Always have only one word. Be swift to hear and slow to answer. Speak only if you know, if not keep mouth shut. Honor and dishonor comes through talk. Tongue is the reason for downfall. Do not be called double minded. Let your tongue be not a trap. Shame is upon the thief and evil condemnation upon the double tongue," Sirach 5:12-16. "A fool can dress well and go in the company of wise; he will get honor till he opens his mouth," adage.

My mother told me a story she heard from her maternal ancestor. My grandmother hailed from Adoor Chittundayil house. Marthanda Varma lived in hiding for some time before he became King (Maharaja) of Travancore for fear of his life; for Ettuveettil Pillamar, his cousins plotted to kill him to capture throne. Varma traveled in disguise. During his sojourn, one day he was hungry and tired. Chittundayil house of Kunjukoshy Tharakan, who was wealthiest in that area, was nearby and Varma went in and requested food. Mother of the house reluctantly ordered her servants to give some food (kanji and pickle) where cattle were fed (eruthil veranda). Varma felt offended at the rudeness and left without taking food. He then went into another roadside house called Nellimootil, which was not too far and made the same plea. That house was related but not as wealthy as former. Mother there, at first glance itself made out that the stranger was no ordinary beggar. She thought he was a Brahmin-Sadhoo. With due respect for a Brahmin she offered him chair to relax in the guestroom. In the meantime she arranged sumptuous meal for him in the nearby Hindu temple through a servant for, Brahmins would not eat from Christian homes on those days. Varma was very pleased with the lady's courtesy, thanked her and left. After a few months Marthanda Varma was enthroned as Travancore Maharaja.

Maharaja remembered both houses Nellimootil where he was honored and Chittundayil where he was ill-treated. He ordered his guards to confiscate properties of Tharakan and summon both to his palace, Nellimootil Idicula in his royal (pallak) carriage and Chittundayil Kunjukoshy Tharakan by walk. The guards came and executed the royal decree. Animal wealth set journey to Trivandrum. Confiscated items went to the royal treasury. About sixty large copper vessels (Arupathinazhi Chembu) marked on them the royal confiscation, were cast in Sasthamkotta Lake. Once a year the vessels are drawn out of water to prepare food and feed wild animals at Govt. expense. I am not sure if that is still being continued. Chittundayil ammachi could not yet realize her folly. Ammachi quipped, "You take all these, but you can't take my "Uttarathil-mukkal." She meant her birth-star and that the birth-star could regain lost glory. Unfortunately the guards could not catch what she said. They took the words literally and angrily smashed Utharam, the wooden foundation of the roof which was specially made hollow and filled with gold coins (rasi). The guards dismantled the whole house and collected all the gold-coins and took to palace. Idicula was treated with great honor, with all royal niceties. Later Maharaja allowed them to return to their homes. Maharaja honored Idicula with fabulous gifts, especially awarded "Muthalaly" title and a thousand-less-a-least (Uriya kurech Ayirapara nilam) measure paddy field which was confiscated from Tharakan. There might be exaggerations or inaccuracies in the story but certainly it evokes some moral lessons; 1, terrible consequences of untimely words and honor that comes with wise words; 2, hospitality is a virtue; has its rewards. Abraham was blessed for this virtue. How do we treat the less-fortunate? These lessons, some are yet to learn, Heb 13:2, 1P4:9.

"Sathiam bruyath priyum bruyath/ Na bruyath sathiamapriyam
Prium cha nanyatham bruyath/ Esha dharma: sanathana:"
meaning: "tell truth, say it dearly; do not tell truth which is not dear; do not tell untruth even if it is dear, this is lasting duty." By argument, litigation, logic or force one can win hatred and enmity but no soul. By love, mercy and forgiveness we can win whole world. Religious hierarchy is yet to learn this lesson.

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