Words & Actions; What Truly Matters

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time


The proof is in the pudding. Actually, the original proverb goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. You can talk all you want about how awesome and amazing and wonderful something is. But it is the actual experience of the reality that proves the truth, not the words themselves that anyone ever spoke. You can apply this wisdom to cooking, as it seems the context of the original proverb. But unless you have a wide TV following and aggressive advertisers, most truly exceptional cooks and chefs don’t need to talk about how great their food is. Their customers will do the talking. A few years back, when cooking shows were the rage, I remember seeing a movie that showed the inner workings of the intensely competitive world these celebrity chefs inhabit in an effort to humanize them. I would have never known it was so cutthroat. There was a lot of bragging and strutting, a lot of bluster and swagger, basically a lot of hot air. If you know how the game is played, you don’t let it get to you. In fact, you just throw in your two cents into the mix. But in our current culture of shallow celebrity and really short attention spans, the bragging and strutting comes with the territory, and not just concerning food. We see it in advertising and sports and politics, anywhere there’s a buck to be made or votes to be won. We’ve gotten so used to it, we actually demand it. And when the dust finally settles, we just follow the paparazzi to the next crime scene.

And speaking of bragging and strutting, hasn’t the past week been quite stressful in the world of politics? Some of us might ask, “When has it not been a stressful week in politics?” So let me assure you that the scriptures we read today indeed have something relevant to say about how we practice our Christian faith. And I will do my utmost to steer clear of partisan politics. I have no intention of adding to the stress. But I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is challenging us to a more authentic discipleship, and a more faithful integration of the faith we profess with how we live it from day to day.

Recently, much passionate and heated exchanges have snared a good number of otherwise calm and rational citizens on social media stemming from the posture certain professional athletes of color have taken at nationally broadcasted sporting events while the national anthem is played. This is not an old story, but it went into hyperdrive when the President felt compelled to share his wisdom on Twitter, also while Kim Jong Un in North Korea and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico were whipping up storms of their own, which then pushed many who had been silent or who had no opinion, to join in the circus. Now I do not see myself strongly aligned with either side, primarily because I don’t watch sports on TV and don’t really find kneeling offensive. And despite seeing myself as above average in intelligence and reasonably informed regarding matters of wide interest, I have to admit I don’t get it. I know it’s a delicate subject because the national anthem and the stars and stripes evoke such passion and energy from a great many of our fellow citizens. But in light of recent events that have brought wide attention but few really useful solutions to the ongoing challenges we face regarding issues of race, culture, language, and religion, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

People who protest do it primarily to draw attention to their cause. Maybe they succeed. At times they might derail their own cause when the people whose attention they are trying to get don’t see the connection, or they focus on something else entirely. But protesters tend not to just stop protesting because their method of choice gets under people’s skin. That is actually their objective all along. Remember the Reformation? And the Civil Rights Movement? But until both sides are deeply and truly convinced our unity as a nation is of greater priority than proving beyond doubt that some of us are right and some of us are wrong, we will never arrive at any constructive dialogue or reconciliation to quell all the shouting and screaming and marching and protesting. And more bragging and strutting and tweeting won’t help. What we need is strong, unified, respectful, and courageous action aimed at genuine and lasting change.

Which brings us to the lessons of today’s scripture readings. If we say yes to something, we should mean yes, and it should show in our actions. Every so often, some young person will admit in confession that they have been disrespectful to their parents. I usually inquire if this disrespect was something they said or something they did. Typically, it’s something they did not do, as in their homework, or some household chore they said they would, or that they fail to set aside their video games like they are asked and come to dinner pronto. So even at a young age, we can tell when our words and our actions do not match. This irregularity has great potential to damage our friendships and our relationships with family. The solution is simple. Say what you mean honestly but with kindness; and do what you say sincerely and with conviction.

When Jesus asked his listeners the question, “Which of the two [sons] did his father’s will?,” the answer was clearly about what they did and not what they said. One said yes, but his actions said no. The other said no, but his actions said yes. Saying the right thing matters, but doing the right thing matters even more. It’s not rocket science.

What we say when we speak and how we act cannot be two different things. Either we stop claiming what isn’t true about who we are, or we start living the values we claim are important to us. Otherwise, it’s just all hot air, just bragging and strutting and bluster and swagger. Eventually people will wise up and realize the truth about us. But coming to recognize the inconsistencies between what we say and how we live, a reality that is often more obvious to others than it is to us, requires work on our part, and a willingness to examine our words and our actions. For instance, we make the same profession of faith every Sunday. Do we stop to reflect on what we are saying? When we pray the Lord’s prayer, and we say “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” do we understand what we are telling God, and what it requires of us? When we extend peace to those around us, we symbolically intend to extend peace to everyone. Or do we not mean that at all? And when we ask God to overlook our faults, are we willing to overlook our neighbor’s faults?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk. Say what you mean; do what you say. The rest is just bragging and strutting, and bluster and swagger, just a lot of hot air. Bold words have meaning only when they accompany bold action. And if what comes out of our mouth does not match who we say we are, we need to work harder and smarter to be the people we claim to be. No one needs our hot air. We don’t need any help generating all the hot air we need.

Rolo B Castillo © 2017