Wisdom Of The Lord, Book Of Sirach by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld

God's Word on Sunday: Words speak loudly about our character

  • March 2, 2019

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, March 3 (Year C) Sirach 27:4-7; Psalm 92; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt!” 

The wisdom of this old saying seems to be in harmony with Sirach’s wisdom. We are a culture that abhors and fears silence. Voices seem to assault us on all sides: talking heads on the news, the brainless chatter of talk shows and the endless prattle and gossip in social gatherings or electronic media all seem bent on preventing a moment’s silence or reflection. In any gathering, a lull in the conversation causes discomfort and a mad rush to say something to fill the space. 

Sirach is part of the Hebrew tradition that respected the power of words. Blessings were given and curses avoided for one simple reason: they worked. Just as God’s word went forth into the world and accomplished the divine will, so human words do their work, for good or ill. Words can build up and heal; words can wound and destroy. 

Sirach has a further insight: words say a lot about the character of a person, and eventually our words reveal who we are and what is inside of us. This insight is especially meaningful in our own time, when the hateful, angry and aggressive words that swirl around us daily reveal much about the collective inner self. 

All is not right with us and our words disclose much darkness that needs acknowledgement and healing. We would all do well to choose our words carefully and think before we speak. Our words would be less likely to hurt and destroy. 

It would also help to speak out of thoughtful, informed reflection, rather than emotion, fear and strongly held opinions. Perhaps we can also move beyond our fear of silence. Words reflect character but also build it. We can think of our words as something powerful and valuable, not to be wasted or squandered. Someday we will have to account for all of them.

Paul ends his discourse on the Resurrection with a note of triumph and praise. Our lives on Earth are a preparation for a great transformation, when our earthly bodies become a spiritual entity, freed from the bonds of human limitation. 

Paul wanted his followers to be patient with this long process and he insisted that the lives we lead on Earth are supremely important. We form the person we will become after this great transformation. 

All that we think, say and do are tools in this process of sculpting our eternal state of being. This is one more reason to have our wits about us each day and to pay attention to our responses to all that life brings us.

One of the greatest gifts in our spiritual journey and the formation of character is self-knowledge. Jesus recognizes the human tendency to criticize and condemn others — individual people and groups — even while we are guilty of the same things. We see and condemn in others what is also inside of us. When we have not recognized and dealt with our own inner darkness, we project it on others. 

Jesus used a humorous image of someone removing a speck from someone’s eye while having a log sticking out of their own. Humorous it is, but right on target. This is one of the driving forces behind our angry and polarized world. 

When the Church does not deal with its darkness, it too projects this on others and is quick to condemn. Strident condemnations of sexual immorality lose authenticity and moral force when it is later revealed that the harshest critics were guilty of similar or worse things. 

The advice that Jesus gave is to clean and put one’s own house in order before daring to criticize and judge another. Then, and only then, is it possible to see and understand clearly. Ironically, when we achieve that, the desire to criticize and condemn loses its allure, for we have empathy and wisdom. 

Jesus ended His teaching by reaffirming that what comes out of us in the form of words and deeds reflects who we really are within. As Lent approaches, perhaps paying careful attention to our words and actions each day would be a more useful discipline than giving up candy.

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