Part 5: And the Word Became Flesh
As I mentioned in my first article on the general theme of Word Matters, I worked on this series on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Later that evening, we heard again the magisterial words from the opening chapter of the gospel of John. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In Genesis, God speaks and worlds come into existence. God speaks through prophets and a people is reproved and brought closer to God’s vision of justice. God’s words are words of power and transformation. And then the word became flesh – entered into human existence in all its terrors and wonders. Jesus demonstrated, in word and in deed life in the kingdom of heaven. The word became enfleshed in Jesus as it does in each of us.
“Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary,” St. Francis famously did not say, (though it is widely attributed to him.) This misattributed saying tends to let church folk off the hook as if we didn’t have to articulate anything. Words are incredibly important. They have the power to bless and the power to wound, to build up or to tear down. The gospel Word has the power to transform a life whether that be the life of an individual or the life of the world. Yes, preachers do well to keep in mind the importance of words.
What St. Francis actually did say, though, was to admonish the friars of his order to “preach by your deeds.” As important as words are, they are not the whole story. Just as Jesus was embodied, so are you. How you behave, how you act – in your family, your church, the world – speaks volumes, some of which you may intend, some of which you may not have intended. The writer of the book of James states it pointedly, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” Bell Hooks put it as bluntly, “Love is as love does.”
Our actions matter. Act then, as the common meme puts it, “in such a manner that you are living proof of a loving God.” Your words alone won’t do.