Killing Others With Our Tongue
Friday January 23, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Samuel 24:3-21) Gospel (St. Mark 3:13-19)
In the first reading, as we hear about this story of Saul going into the cave and David having the opportunity at that point to kill him (because Saul, after all, is hunting David down to kill David), it is an important point for each one of us to think about. What would we do in such a situation? Would we try to take revenge? Would we try to harm the other person? Would we want to kill that individual? David could look at him and say, “This is the Lord’s anointed, and Scripture says, Touch not the Lord’s anointed.” But beyond that, he recognized that as a matter of charity he should not do anything to harm Saul. So when he cuts off the end of Saul’s garment and then points out to Saul that he could have killed him at this point but didn’t, it makes very clear who was in the right and who was in the wrong. But even if that had not happened, even if David had simply allowed Saul to walk away and never said a word, it is the Lord who knows and God will be the judge.
Now, for most of us, we do not necessarily have a desire or an opportunity to try to kill somebody, nor would we want to, but the fact is that there are lots of other ways that we do it – most often with our mouths. How much gossip we spread around, how much slander, how much calumny, how much detraction, all the different things that we might fall into because someone has done something that we do not like. Maybe we do not have an opportunity to do anything physically to them, but how quick we are when we have an opportunity to kill them with our words. The tongue, as Scripture makes very clear, is like a sword; it slices and dices pretty easily and very quickly. The problem is that once the words are out you cannot take them back. You may regret later on that you said something, but the fact is you have already said it. There is no way you can retract what it is that you have said. You could perhaps talk to the people you spoke to and say, “I was wrong,” but they have already heard what you said. Their minds have already been affected by whatever it is that you have presented to them.
So we need to be very, very careful because we could say exactly what David’s men said, “This day the Lord has taken your favor. He has delivered your enemy into your hands.” Well, that could be said of each one of us every time we want to talk about somebody. We have the opportunity to talk to anybody else about this person, and we could look at it and say, “Ah-ha! This day the Lord has delivered my enemy into my hands. I get to cut him to pieces because I have this opportunity.” But we need to be like David and say, “It’s not for me to do. Touch not the Lord’s anointed.”
When we think about that point just for a moment, each one of us, at our baptism, was anointed. We have the anointing of the Holy Spirit. We were each anointed with holy oil, with chrism, on the forehead. So we need to make sure that we are not doing anything that is going to violate these individuals. We also need to be very careful especially about what we say regarding those who are consecrated to the Lord, because they are anointed in a special way. Now it is true that we can look at it and say, “Well, there are some priests and bishops who are not doing what they ought to do,” and we acknowledge that; but we need to be very, very careful. In the Old Testament, to speak ill of a priest carried the penalty of death. We need to recognize that there are very serious spiritual consequences we incur when we do these things. Maybe we are not put to death anymore, but the fact of the matter is that we still turn ourselves over to the devil. There is a consecration that takes place when we do that because we have turned to Satan rather than to God. These are the Lord’s anointed, and we need to be exceedingly careful with what comes out of our mouths.
It is so easy to open up the mouth and have all this stuff come out, and then what do we do with it? Saint James has some wonderful things to say about the tongue. I highly recommend that you look at his letter, and look at what he says regarding this one little, tiny organ. He goes on at one point to say: Anyone who thinks he is devout but does not control the tongue, his worship is pointless. It is a rather strong statement, but he makes very clear that if we want to think we are devout that part of that is to control the tongue. Now we are not going to do that by ourselves; it requires a ton of grace to be able to control this little tongue because it flaps wildly and gets us into all kinds of trouble. We need to pray for the grace to be able to be prudent in our speech and to be silent. Just invoke the old passage of one of Murphy’s Laws: “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” If we keep that in mind, it might help us to keep the mouth shut and let people think of us what they want, at least that way we have not spread any calumny or detraction about anybody else. In that way, we leave it to the Lord; He can be the judge. If He has delivered someone into our power and we have chosen to do what is righteous, the Lord will bless us for that. If we choose the other way, then we find ourselves in trouble: We take judgment into our own hands, but God Himself is the judge.
So if we just consider what we do to somebody else with our words, maybe we do not have the opportunity to kill them, but we do a pretty good job of it just with what we say. That is something each one of us needs to look at very seriously and take to prayer so that we learn to control the tongue. Then our worship of God is going to be complete and it is going to be truly devout because the fruit of what we are doing in prayer is going to be seen in what comes out of the mouth.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.