Talk, Speech, Deed (1 Cor 2: 1-5)
In one of the many commentaries on the quality of the rhetoric in the recent campaign, I came across a distinction I had never thought of – the difference between talk and speech. Talk, whatever comes to you on the spot, or from off the top of your head; speech, what has percolated some inside you and that you in one way or other have prepared or polished before your speak it. Talk is what happens when you’re sitting with your friends at lunch (or in a bar); speech is for more settled times and emerges from someplace deeper. Talk is horizontal, head to head; speech is more vertical, up from the heart.
Paul might well have used this distinction as a way to get across his point about the difference between what he terms “human wisdom,” and what he calls “wisdom from the Spirit,” the first resting on “the sublimity of words” and the second grounded in “the power of God.” If he had spoken with the first kind, he would have come across only with “persuasive words of wisdom.” But the kind he delivered was given “with a demonstration of Spirit and power.”
So, talk versus speech. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with the world of talk – it’s mostly what gets me through the day! But when in the realm of witnessing, in the act of proclaiming what matters most and will last longest, it’s grounded speech that must come into play.
In proclaiming the truth and light of the Gospel, this more substantial kind is called for — the speaking which connects with a person’s bedrock convictions. And so it is that Paul’s testimony rises up from his anchored belief about “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” It springs from Paul’s life-changing encounter with the Risen Christ, from that time in the desert when the here-and-now presence of Jesus as fully alive struck him as the most real of all realities. “This proclamation I’m giving is not religious talk. It’s Gospel speech!”
And so how about our proclamation, our own testimony not only to what we’ve learned but more so to what we’ve experienced (“what we’ve seen and tasted and touched with our own hands.” 1 Jn 1:1)? We’re not talking so much about ecstatic kinds of experiences, but about an underlying conviction regarding the Way, Truth and Life who is Christ Jesus and the path he lays out before us.
And so, all the years of prayer, and deeper reading, and heart-to-heart spiritual direction, and open reception of the sacraments, and soul-friendships, and trying to do good – all these and more were meant to sink that anchor even deeper into the ocean floor which is the Spirit moving within us.
Gospel talk versus Gospel speech.
But the road of discipleship leads us from the world of speech further into the realm of action, from good intentions over to “good deeds.” And it would seem that Jesus makes a distinction between different types of good deeds.
There are those that are good inasmuch as they produce good effects and help others. But then there are those more rooted ones which, in Jesus’ words, “glorify your Heavenly Father.” (Mt. 5:16). They radiate the light and goodness of God in the very carrying out of the deed. It’s not doing just for the sake of doing, what we might call activism. Neither is it doing for the purpose of making the do-er feel better, what the writer Margaret Miles has called “self-interested interference.” But because the good act is rooted in goodness itself, it can focus more on the benefit to the other than profit to the self.
This is the second kind of deed, the “good” kind Jesus speaks of which, because it comes up from the person’s rootedness in God, “gives glory to my Heavenly Father.” And because its font is God’s own goodness and love, it can do things like:
- Ask people what they need before telling them what we think they need.
- Last beyond that first springtime of good feelings that often follows any generous act.
- Deliver that “tough love” when it’s going to be more beneficial than something softer that in the long run will not help.
This is the second kind of deed, the good kind Jesus speaks of which because it emerges from the person’s rootedness in God is the kind that “gives glory to my Heavenly Father.” It’s the kind Vincent underlines so many times as more genuine because it springs from the person’s “following behind Providence” rather than running ahead of it.
Gospel speech and Gospel deeds. Not surface talk and self-referenced action, but proclamation rooted in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and rising up from the wellspring that is God’s own heart as it continually pours out its love on the world.
May our words and actions flow more and more out of this Holy and Sacred Heart.