Powerful Words

The children’s rhyme insists that “sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Yet anyone who has comforted a teased child knows the emptiness of the adage. We all know from experience that the sharp, cold edge of the sword of a single word can cut to the quick, leaving wounds of a lifetime. Indeed, sticks and stone can break bones, but words… words have their own power.

Unlike the other creatures on earth, we live in a world made of words. Words weave our dreams, express our doubts and raise our expectations. Our world is woven of words, powerful words that can change the course of a life. A single word can rewrite the whole story.

Gloria was more nervous than she had been since her wedding day or the birth of their oldest child. Her husband Ed was calm, an odd calm, as though someone past nerves, beyond anxiety, or without a concern for the day ahead. Together they waited in the doctor’s exam room. She held his hand. He stroked her hand as one soothing all the cares away from the moment.

The doctor knocked and entered briskly. His demeanor and carriage radiated a certain gravity but lacked empathy. Well, I have good news and bad news,” the doctor said. “The good news is, physically you’re healthy as a horse.”

Gloria excitement and hope turned to fear. Interrupting the doctor’s prepared delivery, she asked pointedly, “And, the bad news?” The question hung in the air. “The bad news is your husband likely has Alzheimer’s.” A single word can rewrite the whole story.

Alzheimer’s. Argument. Racist. Pregnancy. #MeToo. Cancer. Words are not weak. They constantly rewrite the scripts of our live.

Ludwig Wittgenstein famously wrote, “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” In Deuteronomy, God is presented as the one who lives beyond words, who cannot be contained by them. “Let us not again hear the voice of the Lord, our God, nor see this great fire any more, lest we die” (18: 16). And yet God enters human life, enters communion and covenant with us, through the power of the word.

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin,
and will put my words into his mouth;
he shall tell them all that I command him (18:18).

Jesus comes among us as one who speaks. He weaves words – divine words of power.

All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him” (Mk 1:27).

His words have power, because in him God speaks, the God who summoned the world into being by means of the Word.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race. (John 1:1-4)

John’s Gospel calls Jesus, “the Word” because all-that-is comes through him, finds meaning in him, can only be claimed in him.

Now centuries apart from that day in Capernaum, we want assurances that the Word is driving out demons before our eyes. Divorce. Death. War. Termination. Arrest. Terrorism. There are so many words that terrify us, and we desperately want God to respond, to speak a word in response. And, in one word, to powerfully answer.

The Word has already been spoken into world, a word of power, a word that returns when all has been accomplished. The word given, the word that answers all is “Jesus.”

Saint John of the Cross insisted that God “In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word—and he has no more to say.” Indeed, for Saint John, God the Father tells us, “Fasten your eyes on him alone, because in Him I have spoken and revealed all, and in Him you shall discover even more than you ask for or desire (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, 2, 22, 3-5).

Alzheimer’s. Argument. Racist. Pregnancy. #MeToo. Cancer. Divorce. Diagnosis. War. Termination. Arrest. Terrorist – words with power to rewrite our lives. How are we to respond, now knowing the Word of all power has been spoken into our lives. Strangely, the demons propose the right question: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”  We are called to answer this question for ourselves.

We are called to contemplate the words of our response in the light of Jesus’ word. We must allow the Word to work within our lives. If we do that, the world itself changes. As believing people, we have heard the ultimately powerful word: “Jesus.” A word that rewrites not just our lives but alters the world itself.

What will be the words of our response? That’s the great question.

And now, God listens.

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