During Lent we read a lot from the prophet Isaiah at our Catholic Mass, and part of our reading Saturday was:
If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always…
(Isaiah 58:9-11 NAB)
That “malicious speech” thing continues to hit home. I rather like the Revised Standard Version (RSV) better; it seems a bit more descriptive: “If you take away…the pointing of the finger…” (Isaiah 58:9 RSV)
Seems like the fingers are being pointed in every direction these days, and insults and accusations in every form of media/communication buzz around like flies over the torn carcass of graciousness—wounded, and at times seemingly near death. Like hurling insults across a crevasse, it’s easy to do across the insulating separation provided by our media world, not having to face those who actually are the targets of the slings and arrows of insult or sardonic comment.
But…what does snarkiness and insult and hyperbolic accusation gain for anyone? Is it not a futile attempt at self-aggrandizement at the expense of the reputation of others (“I’m so smart, and he’s sooo stupid!”)…trying to elicit support and praise for oneself from the like-minded—very much like gossip in general? And, as with gossip, doesn’t it rather diminish the gossiper than the “gossipee”?
For counsel, we Christians fly to scripture…and read in the book of Proverbs: “The wise of heart is called a man of discernment, and pleasant speech increases persuasiveness…” (Proverbs 16:21 RSV), and, in the book of Sirach we read of gossip: “Have you heard a word? Let it die with you. Be brave! It will not make you burst!” (Sirach 19:10 RSV) Likewise, is not persuasion and reason better than accusation and insult? Sadly, we’ve lost a lot of that in our day.
At that same Mass Saturday we also read the Gospel of Jesus dining with the tax collectors and sinners—the pariahs of their society in that day. Jesus replied to His critics: “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” (Luke 5:32 NAB) Yet…a doctor doesn’t ridicule or insult a patient to health. Jesus did not accuse. He was not snarky. He certainly did not hate or slander. And in continued emulation of Him, pastors, popes, bishops and everyday Christian laypersons visit prisons daily—not to approve of their crimes or spiritual illness, but in hopes of applying a remedy—like Jesus with the tax collector (and eventually apostle) Matthew, or with the tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19), and many more nameless to whom He brought healing.
An acorn does not know that it has within it to be a mighty oak, but every acorn does; it simply depends on the gardener. Likewise, each person has within himself to be a great person…a great saint. But Our Lord leaves much of the tending of His orchard to us. So BE the good gardener—not growing the weeds of insult and accusation, but with charitable persuasion, and most of all with generosity, patience and that almost-lost virtue of graciousness. ALL are our brothers and sisters. As St. Paul writes: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt…” (Colossians 4:6 RSV)…salt, which gives delicious flavor to the insipid…for “The mind of the wise makes his speech judicious…[and] Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16:23-24 RSV)