In taking on man’s human nature, Jesus took on man’s human powers and skills. Among the powers was the power of speech, and every word he uttered was to the glory of the Father. Among the skills was the ability to make tables and chairs, and everything he turned out was again to the glory of God. We are here more concerned with the gift of speech than with the gift of being able to handle a carpenter’s tools perfectly.
The gift of communication by word of mouth is granted in the natural order to all except the dumb, and as in the case of all other gifts, the question depends upon how it is used. Saint James asks how the one spring can gush forth fresh water and foul; how a fig tree can produce olives or a grapevine figs; yet blessings and cursing come out of the same mouth.
I assure you, our Lord himself says, on judgment day people will be held accountable for every unguarded word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned. It is estimated that the average person speaks roughly 18,000 words a day. (I would have thought it might be more.) How are we to cut down on unguarded and “idle” words? How are we to see that only clear water comes from the spring and that fruit trees produce only their appropriate fruit? Resolutions help of course – deciding to be more charitable in what we say, avoiding gossip, telling the truth, suppressing salacious talk and bad language – but a surer way is to let the spirit of Jesus penetrate our spirit and transform it so that it becomes his.
In the light of the parable of the two sons, one of whom said he would work in his father’s field and stayed where he was, while the other said he would not go yet eventually went, it is curious that Jesus should make words the deciding factor between acquittal and condemnation. There is no real contradiction, however, and what he surely meant us to understand was that while the main consideration must be the attitude of the mind and heart – the interior choosing – the exterior of expression is found in speech. Just as an air bubble under water forces itself to the surface, so what is good or evil below the surface in our character comes out in the form of what we say.
If this is so, then people who are habitually united with Jesus within will reflect him in their conversation. This does not mean that pieties will flow from their lips. There is all the difference between sanctity and sanctimoniousness. It means that what they say, coming as it does from a different level within themselves, will reach souls at a different level. Jesus in one soul will move out to Jesus in another. There will be a corresponding exchange. The man who is relieving the life of Jesus has no desire to edify, but those who talk to him come away the better for it.
Then there is the question of preaching and directing. Here again the words are the echo of the Word. If the man in the pulpit and the confessional is the man he is supposed to be, namely the man of prayer, then what he says will be what Jesus wants him to say – what Jesus himself is saying through the man’s mouth. If a sermon is worth anything it must come from God, and, through the souls addressed, be directed back to God. The words that go forth from my lips, says the Lord, must not return to me void. This is from Isaias, who knew well that he was only God’s mouthpiece.