Image: Life in a small town
Our northern communities are, for the most part, small and very tight knit. There are many advantages to living in a small community; everyone knows their neighbor and people can be supportive of one another, especially in times of hardship. If someone is sick or in need, or if there is a death, the word quickly gets out and people rush to do what they can to help. But with the blessings that closeness brings there also comes a darker side.
In the first reading today, we find Jeremiah in the midst of what seems to be an anxiety attack caused by the gossip of his neighbors and even those he considers his close friends. The word of the Lord, which Jeremiah has been given to share has stirred up much controversy and people are all too willing to talk about it, not with Jeremiah, but behind his back. Such murmurings do not stay hidden for long and they get back to Jeremiah quickly. He finds himself squeezed between trying to do God’s will and trying to appease those around him who find his message too challenging to bear.
This dynamic is one which I often hear about in our communities, especially when people are trying to change their lives for the better. Whether someone is trying to make church a more important part of their life or trying to kick some bad habits, there are always those around them who want to make life difficult by putting up barriers of scorn and shame. “You think you are too good for us”, they say” or, “You are being a hypocrite”. If a prophet like Jeremiah can feel the cut of such barbs imagine the impact on someone who is vulnerable and just trying to find a way to make their life a little better. These secret attacks are devastating and have the effect of scaring many people away from wanting to change at all.
Gossip is like a virus, it starts so small and seemingly harmless, but it spreads quickly, and its effects can quickly become lethal to the human spirit. It is said that words cannot hurt us, but this is not what I see when people describe their symptoms of fear, anxiety, depression, and even suicidal thoughts all because of what people are talking about behind their back.
Today we are living in the midst of a pandemic and we have all learned what it means to deal with a nasty virus. The acronym is IPAC, Infection Prevention and Control. Let us take what we have learned and apply it to this situation.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans he speaks about sin coming into the world through one person. Well, that is how rumors begin as well. Our words are powerful and if they are misused, they can cause great harm. This is important to consider when we speak about others as we can either raise someone up or we can knock them down. Let us never be the start of an infection of gossip in our community.
In order to prevent its spread, gossip needs participation and so we need to exercise good spiritual hygiene. Avoid those who spread falsehoods and rumor; if you hear gossip let it stop with you. If you are in a group that is sharing stories about people who are not there, you can change the story from bad to good by focusing on the positive.
In order not to be a victim of gossip we must be vaccinated and for that we turn to our faith. Jesus tells us in the Gospel today that we have no need to fear those who malign us. Words cannot hurt us if we find strength in Christ who bore all things for us so that we do not have to be afraid of anything in this world. Jesus faced the scorn and ridicule of those who tortured and killed him, and he overcame it all through his resurrection from the tomb. If we genuinely believe in what God has done for us, we will be immune to all those who try to hurt us.
Never forget how much you are loved by your creator, every hair on your head has been counted and you are precious in the eyes of God