September 27, 2023 at 10:28 a.m.
Talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves …” — Philippians 2:3-4
Today, there is a great deal of skepticism among people of faith when it comes to leadership in the Church. There are many reasons for this skepticism, chief among them is the handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis. The faithful have heard much spoken about this issue and other issues that plague the Church today. This has made people very leery of the words spoken or written by Church leaders. You may even be skeptical of the words I have written in this article, and you would have every right to be skeptical based on the Church’s track record in recent years.
There is a saying that we are all familiar with, “Talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words.” How then are we able to judge the sincerity of not only words but actions as well? The only standard for judging properly is to use the standard in Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you, if your uprightness does not surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees you will never get into the kingdom of Heaven.” These are powerful words Jesus speaks to the people who gathered around that hillside, among those people were the chief priests and elders.
The standard Jesus provides us can be heard in his exchange with the chief priests and elders of the people of Israel in this Sunday’s Gospel as well. One can’t help but interpret that these words are being spoken by Jesus to the bishops, priests and all leaders of the Church who are called to faithfully serve the people of God. Jesus asks them and us, “What is your opinion? A man had two sons. He came to the first and said, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ He said in reply, ‘I will not,’ but afterward changed his mind and went. The man came to the other son and gave the same order. He said in reply, ‘Yes, sir,’ but did not go.” (Matt. 21:28-32) Jesus tells us that our words and actions should match one another. An overarching theme in the Gospel of Matthew is that doing is more important than simply saying. Matthew himself was put to the test, “As Jesus was walking on from there, he saw a man named Matthew (Levi) sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed Jesus.” (Matthew 9:9) No words were spoken in response by Matthew, he simply got up and left everything behind to follow Jesus. Actions speak louder than words!
The Second Reading from Philippians 2:1-11 is one of the most ancient creedal statements of the Church. The Philippians Hymn, as it is known, recounts Jesus Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. We are not only called to speak these words that profess Jesus’ action on the cross, we are called to live out Jesus’ action of self-emptying on the cross in our own lives. The action of Jesus’ self-emptying on the cross reveals his obedience to the will of the Father and that obedience caused him to humble himself even to the point of death on the cross. By Jesus’ obedience and humility which brought him to the cross, we learn that God’s words are true and life-giving.
Because of Jesus’ action on the cross, we have received forgiveness for our sins and life everlasting. God’s word is everlasting and it is backed up by God’s action on the cross. God gave his word to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in his covenant. He established the law by making a covenant with Moses at Mount Sinai. The prophets of the Old Testament reminded Israel that God’s promises are words that are put into action. God reminds the people of Israel that they have a responsibility to not just give lip service to God’s promise of salvation but live it out in their own lives. That is the meaning behind the First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel 18:25-28: “When someone virtuous turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he dies. But if he turns from the wickedness he committed, and does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life.” The Prophet Ezekiel is exiled to Israel to tell them that their actions must speak louder than their words. Their actions must reflect their words that speak of a life of holiness.
“Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your path and guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.” (Ps.25:4-5) The psalm provides a word of prayer which we call to reflect on our words and actions. What do our words and actions say about our faithfulness to God? The words we speak and the actions we perform should reveal our obedience and humility before God.