Sticks and Stones... Words matter
Updated: Sep 12, 2021
The saying "sticks and stones may break my bones and words will never hurt me isn’t true. Words matter. This week in Mark 8:27-38 we hear a lot of words that matter. At the beginning of that passage, when Jesus asks his followers who people say that he is, Peter declares, "You are the Messiah”.
That utterance makes something happen- Peter reveals an awareness, a relationship, an awakening. In this moment, in this revelation of Jesus’ identity as the Chosen One of God, the Anointed- Peter is the bearer of truth. Peter “gets it”. Peter’s words reveal his understanding of what he has observed in Jesus acts and heard in Jesus’ teaching.
And then just as quickly .....words matter.
When Jesus teaches that rejection, death and suffering will part of being the Messiah, Peter rebukes Jesus. How quickly words change things. It is in this context that Jesus rebukes Peter- telling him, “get behind me Satan.” Those words do something as well.
The same Greek word of "rebuke" ἐπιτιμάωis used by Jesus in Mark 9:25 to cast out a demon. Words can perform. Words can make things happen. All week long the song "Killing Me Softly With His Words" sung by Roberta Flack, has been going through my mind. Words have power.
Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.
Proverbs 15:4 The Message translation
To learn to be care-filled with our words is a life long journey. To be "doers of the word" it's helpful to pause when speaking, to let there be space between a thought and the words that come out of one's mouth. Click here to read James 3:1-12 in The Message translation. The writer of James understood what has come to be explored and studied as "performative language". Performative language is when the word isn't just a word spoken, it does what it says. An example of performative language is, " I promise...". The word is the action.
Jesus' words were often performative, they made things happen. His word of rebuke both stopped Peter in his tracks in denying the teaching of Jesus and the rebuke by Jesus cast out an unclean spirit from a young boy. Words can be used for blessings and for curses. Words can stop us in our tracks and encourage us to keep on going. Words can make things happen. The caution in the Letter of James to be careful with our words is an ongoing, lifelong, and timely message.
All month long, with a focus of Service in September, consider how your words -along with your hands (actions) can be of service. How will you use your words to express love, healing and hope? How can you take the cation of writing words to advocate for those in need, give thanks and share encouragement? How will you use your words to offer forgiveness, invitation and blessing?
In the Roman Catholic Mass, prior to receiving the Eucharist, worshippers proclaim; “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” . This is a connection with the story of a centurion who appeals to Jesus to heal his servant who is paralyzed. When Jesus offers to come to the centurions home. The centurion says, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed”. The centurion trusted the words of Jesus to heal.
Words matter. Words make things happen. We get to trust that when the words of forgiveness are pronounced , forgiveness takes place. When the words of Jesus are connected with bread and wine in Holy Communion they become what is said; the very body and blood of Jesus. We take them in, there is power in this meal of healing and reconciliation. We become what we eat and drink- so that we are fueled to take up our crosses and follow.
We trust we are forgiven and free to start fresh each day. Will you trust in this forgiveness for you? Will you let it in that you do not need to carry around the past? The past is not the cross we bear. We get to learn from it and we do not need to relive it.
We get to practice trusting in Jesus’ words again and again and again. We get to practice using our words to bless and heal. We practice using words for supplication and confession to place our fears and anger, our hopes and dreams, our envy and our frailties into the tender loving hands of God, whose words spoke Creation and us into being.
We take to heart the words we receive -being named beloved child of God. Use your words to ask for the power of the Holy Spirit to let this all in. Ask for guidance to speak the truth in love, and let God’s words of love -for you -sink in. We are then free to do God's work with our hands and with our words. Words matter.