Words and Action Are Necessary

A reading for Tuesday, February 7, 2017:  John 11:38-44.

"Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary."
-attributed to St. Francis of Assisi 

Nobody quite knows where that quote came from. Scholars have investigated and there is no evidence that any such admonition came from the founder of the Franciscan order. Likely it was created by those who saw Christians who talked a good game but whose actions were not as clearly evident. They put priority on action rather than words.

Perhaps the opposite is also true, especially today in an age when evangelism is almost a forbidden word. Our culture does not look favorably on those who openly proclaim the gospel. It seems only for those holding big signs at football games or sharing tracts on the street corner. So today it's more likely that critique might be on prioritizing words over just action. The Apostle Paul said in Romans 10:14: "But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?"

The truth is both of these are a false dichotomy. Our gospel is both words and action. In today's lesson we see no less than Jesus holding such a tension. In healing Lazarus, Jesus says: "I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me." Jesus does not act simply for sake of the crowd. Lazarus is in need of saving, and the gospel offers life in the midst of death. But how will others know it's the gospel if Jesus does not proclaim it to be so? So Jesus heals and proclaims that healing is of God.

Our task is also to do the actions connected to God's mission in the world (hope, healing and transformation), while at the same time proclaiming that it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that connects us to such a mission. "So that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16) There is no priority on either words or action, the gospel of Jesus Christ is both.

Perhaps we might alter the quote to say...

"Preach the gospel at all times. Words AND action are equally necessary."
-you and me and thee  


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