Our Tongues

3 September 2006: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Mark 7, 14-23: Our Tongues

In the Gospel, the disciples are accused of not washing before dinner, as the purity laws require. Jesus replies that it is not what people eat that defiles them; it is their inner heart, issuing in outside behavior, that matters. What does this mean? He means that only persons can really be defiled; and what defiles a person is his own actions, which are the products of his own heart. Jesus says that every outward act of sin, for example, is preceded by an inward act of choice; therefore, Jesus begins with the evil thought from which the evil action comes. Jesus adds that uncleanness has to do with what comes out of our heart and it is manifested by our lips, our tongues, or what we say.

Thus, Jesus quotes Isaiah about empty, pretentious worship --- they use their lips but their hearts are far from God. There is a story about Xanthus, the philosopher. He once told his servant that he will have some friends for dinner the next day, and that he should get the best thing he could find in the market.

The philosopher and his guest sat down the next day at the table. They had nothing but the tongue --- four or five courses of tongue --- tongue cooked in this way, and tongue cooked in that way. The philosopher finally lost his patience and said to his servant, “Didn’t I tell you to get the best thing in the market?” The servant said, “I did get the best thing in the market. Isn’t the tongue the organ of sociability, the organ of eloquence, the organ of kindness, the organ of worship?”

Then Xanthus, the philosopher, said, “Tomorrow, I want you to get the worse thing in the market.” The next day, Xanthus and his friends sat at table, and there was nothing but tongue --- four or five courses of tongue --- tongue in this shape and tongue in that shape. The philosopher lost his patience again and said, “Didn’t I tell you to get the worse thing in the market?” The servant replied, “I did; for isn’t the tongue the organ of blasphemy, the organ of defamation, the organ of lying?”

I guess, today, we are asked to look at our hearts --- by way of the tongue. What we say, will tell us about what is in our hearts. The tongue, like all body organs, follows what proceeds from the center of our persons. Our tongue is the only tool that grows sharper with constant use. So just in case we find our tongues the source of other people’s hurt or even ours, or even if we find our tongues also the source of greatness and goodness, we can get advice from Johann von Goethe: At least once every day, one ought to hear a song; read a good poem, see a fine painting and if possible, speak a few reasonable words. By doing so, we also can practice our hearts.

No comments: