When I was a seminarian waiting for my ordination interview one of my classmates, Tom, came to sit with me. I was called into the interview and was told I was being recommended for ordination. Filled with a sense of great joy mixed with relief I seemed to float out of the room to break the good news to Tom. He gave me a big hug, said something like, “Was there ever any doubt!?” And handed me a gift. It was a framed print by Sister Madaleva, a well known artist and nun. It was a cross and quote from Saint Francis.
The quote was, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary use words.”
If necessary use words.
The phrase caught my attention. After all, I am a man of words, a preacher and teacher.
Words are important. Words are powerful. They can inspire and encourage. They can tear down and wound. Imagine how we would communicate if we didn’t have language. The first book of the Bible says God worded creation into being. Light! Day! Night! Plants and animals! Humans! And so on. The Gospel of John says that Jesus is the Word made Flesh, a human that is the divine word of creation.
So maybe Francis has a point. In fact, the Apostle James makes the same point in a different way when he charges us to be “doers of the word” and not just “hearers.” James goes so far as to say if we only hear the word, but do not put it into action, we haven’t really heard the word at all. There is a modern colloquialism that says it well.
Walk the talk.
There is a lot of talk going on in our daily living. “Talking heads” is a fitting description. Pushing different agendas, different interpretations, different opinions, different options. But where is the walk? It seems to me many folks are putting a lot of faith in some people’s words without checking out whether the words are matched by the walk.
Jesus walked. And THEN he talked. And most of the time he spoke in response to those who questioned everything he did. Why? Because what he did was a direct challenge to those in power who were using that power to their own advantage, and at the expense of those not in power.
And here we are, two thousand years later, facing the same inhumane conditions. You might think that if the followers of Jesus really walked the talk we would be living in a much different world. A world where those in power acted with compassion, and in the best interest of all concerned.
Where we act as good neighbors.
In response to a question about the greatest commandment, challenging him once again, Jesus told a story that we know as the story of the Good Samaritan. Stunned by the conclusion of the story the questioner answered Jesus’ question, “Which one was the good neighbor?” by saying, “The one who showed compassion.”
Compassion is at the heart of Christian faith. Jesus describes compassion throughout his ministry, both in what he did, his walk, and what he said, his talk. And his focus was primarily on the needs of the poor and oppressed. So why is the church so silent on the needs of the poor and oppressed? Why is the focus more on the rich and powerful? Ultimately we will all be judged more by what we do than what we say. And rightly so. As a Christian I must take Francis’ words to heart.
Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary use words.