Reflection for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
If you scan through your interactions with people, you could recall instances when you said something that hurt someone or even generated a problem you didn’t plan. But, on the other hand, you could also remember moments when your speech brought comfort and encouragement to someone.
These instances demonstrate that words are powerful and could make or mar, build or destroy. What you say or not say often determines what you gain or lose. Experts in oral presentation would say that the first five minutes of your speech presentation tell your audience if they should care to continue to listen to you or not. No wonder people use ice breakers like captivating stories for intros.
The Readings of this Sunday serve as practical guides to life. In the First Reading (Sirach 27:4-7), we read that the words we verbalize can reveal our hearts’ content. The oracle of Ben-Sirach thus says: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had, so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind.”
Controlling the Source of the Power of Words
The Letter of St. James contains a detailed description of the potency of the human tongue, which he sees as a small member that boasts of great exploit (James 3:3-6). However, what we need to clarify is the source of the power of the human tongue, which could be very destructive as fire when it is unrestrained
Still speaking from the plain ground, our Lord Jesus Christ clarifies how words are formed before they become expressions from the mouth aided by the tongue. He says: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
We understand here that the mouth is not bad or good on its own apart from the heart. The relationship between the mouth and the heart is essentially the same relationship between smoke and fire. Like we all know, “there is no smoke without fire,” In the same way, words are birthed in the heart before the mouth speaks.
Moving Forward: Your Words Define You
While appearance could be deceptive, our words go a long way to define us. The First reading puts it aptly, “Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ identified hypocrites as the perfect representation of individuals who speak deceitfully from hearts full of evil in the Gospel. As Jesus illustrated, they neglect the wooden beams bulging from their eyes while verbally insisting to remove a splinter from another person’s eye.
Essentially, words are cooked in the heart, the seat of all good and evil. St. Paul advocated for the perfect cooking of our words when he advised in the Letter to the Colossians (4:6) that our speech be gracious; seasoned with salt to know how to answer anyone.
I attended the passage rites of a highly respected priest, charismatic teacher, and preacher, Fr. Bill Halbing, in Springfield, New Jersey. The Church was packed to capacity. But, beyond the massive attendance, everyone seemed to remember one memorable thing he said.
We should spend our lives adding value to people’s lives through our words. We may need to pause at this point and intentionally ask ourselves if we have gracious words that could potentially sustain a loving memory of us when we exit the world.
It is not all about what we force people to believe about us, but what we truly are within ourselves. Therefore, we must refine our hearts so that the words that proceed from them become dependable memories that will uplift people even when we are no longer among the living. So, we pray with David, “create in me a clean heart, put a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
God bless you, and have a blessed weekend and a more productive week ahead.