One of the candidates to be President of the United States this year, who had spent much of his career as a business consultant, once referred to the President’s cabinet – the heads of the Federal Government’s major departments, the successors of historical giants such as Alexander Hamilton and George C. Marshall – as the President’s “direct reports.”
The jargon of contemporary business has its place, of course, and is very useful, but it can sometimes drain the richness and vitality not only out of our linguistic palette, but also out of our lives.
The Lectionary translation of today’s first reading
) does a little bit of that as well, using the phrase “make an agreement” to translate the ancient Hebrew verb 'amar (not to be confused with the Latin or Spanish verb “to love).
The primary meaning of the Hebrew word is “to speak”: often in the sense of ordinary discourse, but sometimes in the sense of vow or command.
In a very real sense, what today’s first reading is saying is, on the one hand, that the People of God are giving their word that the LORD will be their God and that they will walk in his ways, and on the other hand, that the LORD is giving His Word that they will be His People.
Sadly, “giving one’s word” seems to be less prevalent or even less meaningful nowadays.
From children who think lying is okay if your fingers are crossed to politicians who lie about matters great and small, sometimes with eloquent rhetoric and sometimes with folksy expressions, we think less and less about a person’s “word” – even our own.
It is a frightening situation, described beautifully by Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons
:"When a man takes an oath, he is holding his own self in his hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then - he needn't hope to find himself again."
These words are a warning to us all and we see too often and too painfully, in our world and in our lives, the awful aftermath of oaths broken, of lies spoken lightly, and of human beings hopelessly searching for a truth that they long ago relinquished.
For many of us, these words stab at our guilty hearts, as we remember the times when we cared more about convenience and comfort than about the value of our own word and the times we have buried ourselves deeper and deeper in lies to cover lies.
And we wonder, need we hope to find ourselves again?
The infinite and mysterious power of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ can indeed restore and heal us.
We may not ever hope to find ourselves again, but Christ the Good Shepherd can indeed find us and set us on the right path.
May you and I begin right now to let that happen: to beg the Lord for his mercy and healing, to open ourselves to his grace, and by the power of his grace reclaim ourselves and reclaim our word.
Why is this important? Because words are critical to our relationship with God: his words of covenant and commandment, as well as our words of commitment, prayer, and witness.
May our words be things of value and truth, so that they may help bind us more closely to God and so that our words may be more effective instruments of the witness and the service we give to God.