Words that Work

One of the first posts I wrote on this blog was called “Religion that Works.” It touched on what has been one of the most persistent elements of my faith, even within a spiritual journey that has been topsy turvy: More than anything else, I want a faith that changes lives. I remember, when I was at my journey’s lowest point, my priest smiling sympathetically and simply saying “All you wanted was for the Gospel to be true.” And he was right. In the eight years that have passed since then, as my faith reasserted itself, this sense of not being willing to settle for a faith that doesn’t transform has persisted and has become the drumbeat of my soul’s quest. Thankfully, I have found within that same Gospel a faith that is true, that does change lives, and that does work.

I was reminded of all this as I read through the Gospel reading appointed for yesterday. I felt a deep affinity to the crowd in Capernaum who witnessed Jesus’ teaching and healing. It would seem they too were tired of empty words and longed for something that actually had the power to transform. No more going through the motions, no more platitudes, and saying the ‘right’ thing. “They were astonished by his teaching,” the text says about their response to Jesus’ teaching, “for his word was with authority.” Later, after Jesus frees a man from a demon, the crowd says, “What a message is this! For with power and authority he commands the unclean spirits and they come out!” They are so impressed by the power of his words that news of Jesus quickly spreads throughout the region.

As I reflected on this passage, I was drawn to think about how I communicate. I’m certainly not Jesus (and thank God for that, for everyone’s sake), but as a follower of Jesus, I am called to become by God’s grace all that he was and is by nature. So, if Jesus’ words can transform lives, then mine care called to do likewise. And so I’ve been thinking: Do my words build up or do they tear down? Do I speak truth to power with power, or do I dissemble when the stakes are high? Do I use what authority I have in life to help free outsiders from whatever it may be that’s oppressing them? Or, do I use it to maintain and promote my own comfort? Are my words idle or are they living and effective? In short, do my words work? The answer to these questions is far more middling than I’d care to admit. And so, I’m grateful to have been given the spur to think on this and to be more intentional about my words and speech in the days and weeks to come.

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