“The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones.
Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not as many as have fallen because of the tongue…
It has no power over the godly; they will not be burned in its flame.
Those who forsake the Lord will fall into its power; it will burn among them and will not be put out.
It will be sent out against them like a lion; like a leopard it will mangle them.”
(Sirach 28:17-18, 22-23)
FORSAKING THE LORD, AND FALSE SPEECH
I begin with a few words of commentary from Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann about this passage.
“Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) is powerfully aware of false speech and its destructive power… One falls into the power of such speech if one forsakes God. Thus he draws the practicality of speech into the orbit of God’s rule… Attentiveness to God situates us in a context of abundance that invites gratitude. Conversely, false speech gives us a context of scarcity that breeds resentment. Ben Sira [Sirach] makes clear that speech is different because of the reality of God.” (Gift and Task: A Year of Daily Readings and Reflections, p. 347)
“… speech is different because of the reality of God.”
In other words, if one has a relationship with the loving, guiding God, that relationship affects our outlook and also the way we speak, the way we use words. If we forsake God… turn our backs on a relationship with God, we can rather quickly fall into the habit of destructive speech - the kind of speech that attacks and hurts others, including lying or speaking in such a way that our words incite others to violence.
Given the recent events that have happened in our country leading up to the mid-term elections, including the killing of 11 members of the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh on Saturday, we see that words matter. Our words have power to either build up or to destroy.
People who use words to demean or attack people because of their race, faith, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation are not - in those moments - acting from a place of connection to God. Anyone who claims to speak such words in the name of God is deluding themselves, and does not know God.
If we want to work for the common good, if we want a more unified nation, one of the lessons then, for all of us, is to seek out this God who is loving, merciful, and wise, who is about the work of reconciliation - bringing people back into unity with God and with one another. Seeking and finding and coming to know this God will transform our relationships, transform our speech, and transform us!
Conversely, if our speech is about attacking others, if we speak in a way that is designed to mislead or to sow discord, then that is a really good indicator that we have forsaken the Lord.
May God send loud noises and warning lights to go off in our brains when our speech is false and/or destructive. May we hear God say, “Hello, (insert your name here). God to ________! You have turned away from Me, you have forsaken Me, you are very far from Me right now. My followers do not speak like that! You have not been taught to speak that way by Me. Repent and return to Me, and learn My ways anew. Return, and help me bring about the reign of God.”