If Necessary, Use Deeds
January 18, 2014
"I do not seal my lips, Lord, as you know. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help." - Psalm 40:10
"Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words." Many Christians love this saying attributed to St. Francis (who didn't say it, but never mind). It's a clever line that lets us off the hook of verbal testimony while canonizing our inclination to be busy. We are suspicious of "mere" words. In deeds we trust.
During his first presidential campaign, Barack Obama was mocked for his eloquence. Pretty words don't solve problems, his detractors said. Show us accomplishments! In another election, this one in Mexico, a ruling party candidate did just that. Addressing a rally of paid villagers, he touted the sewer lines, street lights, and schools the party had constructed. Rampant graft meant that everything was badly built, of course. Things broke down with depressing regularity. But the crowd applauded on cue as he rattled off each accomplishment. Then, as he sat down, a villager raised a placard on which he'd scrawled a massively subversive message: Basta de realizaciones! Queremos promesas! Enough accomplishments! We want promises!
Sometimes deeds are not better than words. Sometimes promises are not a last resort, eloquence not a fallback plan. Sometimes what we most need is not a new sewer line but a new word that lifts our tired eyes to a horizon beyond the everyday, refines our hope, cultivates our endurance, floods us with joy. Sometimes the best thing is speech that springs from experience, describing transformations we ourselves have known, saving grace, faithful companionship, loving arms that open when other arms have closed.
Some people think the last thing the world needs is more words, but the truth is the last thing the world needs is our silence.
Holy Spirit, give me the gift of testimony. In season and out, unseal my lips to speak of the God I know in Christ, whose joy is boundless, whose welcome is wide, and whose mercy never ends.
About the Author
Mary Luti is Visiting Professor of Christian History and Worship at Andover Newton Theological School, Newton, Massachusetts.
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