Image: Chief of Ndilo, Ernest Betsina, shares a word of welcome at a diocesan liturgy (photo by Brent Currie)
As a young Redemptorist student, I was told the tall tale of how Redemptorist Mission preachers used to be trained to preach. It was said that the novice master would fill the mouth of each student with marbles and have them read Shakespeare aloud and recite poetry, making sure to enunciate every word. As the students progressed in their ability, they would be allowed to remove one marble at a time from their mouths. It was by this method that the novice master knew, that when the pupil had finally lost all his marbles, he was ready to be a preacher.
That is a terrible old joke, but it brings us to the theme of today’s Gospel reading which is speaking plainly. The disciples finally have a breakthrough and they begin to understand what it is that Jesus is trying to say to them. No more figures of speech, no more puzzling metaphors, just straight talk about what his plans are and what is going to happen next.
Words can be used for so many things; we put them in songs, we put them in poems, we tell our history and we share the deepest parts of ourselves to those we trust using the gift of language. It is such a common tool that we often take it for granted and we sometimes abuse it, because words can also be used as a weapon and as an instrument to control others.
In the Gospel Jesus uses his words as a warning. He tells the disciples that they are going to be facing some difficult times, that they will be persecuted and will run and hide leaving Jesus alone. But Jesus also uses words of comfort assuring them he will not be abandoned by his Father and that the persecution the disciples face will not be the end for them. Finally, he offers them words of peace.
Our language is an important part of who we are, it informs how we think and how we see the world. If we learn a second language our world expands. If our language is taken away, a part of us goes missing.
The most important part of our language is that it is the best way we have to convey to others the ideas that are inside of us. For that reason, we ought to think carefully about how we use it. If you grew up with the expression, “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me” you know how untrue that is. If we are not truthful or if we use our words to hurt others, not only do we cause damage to them, but the image that people have of us will be distorted and hard to repair.
A young girl was caught in a lie by her mother. To teach a lesson the mother took an old feather pillow, tore it open, gave it to her daughter and asked her to shake it into the wind. As the feathers took flight the daughter remarked that she was now aware that the words she spoke were no longer in her control and she did not know where they would land or what effect they would have in the world. The mother agreed but said, “That is not the lesson. I want you now to go and gather up all those feathers again.” Hurtful words, once spoken, cannot be taken back.
As followers of Jesus let us be people who speak plainly, truthfully, kindly. Let us use our words to lift up one another and to praise God who gave us the Word, His Son, Jesus.