Preach by Acting

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

Psalm 37: 1-18 (Morning)
Psalm 19:42 (Evening)
Ezra 1: 1-11
1 Cor. 16: 1-9
Matt. 12: 15-21

Preach by Acting

On her desk at St. Paul’s, Suzanne keeps a card with those wonderful lines attributed to St. Francis: “Preach the Gospel always. If necessary, use words.” To me those lines are a variation on what, again in variations, we hear most often from Jesus: “Peace be with you,” and “Be not afraid.” Both the psalm and the passage from Matthew this morning remind me of those words, as well as Francis’s.

The message in the psalm, as so often in those 150 poems, is in the context of a divine reckoning with the good guys triumphing over the bad. Don’t fret over the evildoers, it tells us, because God will deal with them, while “those who wait for the Lord (that would be the psalmist) shall inherit the land.” Bad folks in fact do occasionally get their comeuppance. In the last few weeks we have seen the dramatic fall from prominence of a powerful man apparently guilty of some despicable behavior. But let’s be honest: that’s more often not what happens.

In any case, expecting retribution strikes me as just another way of being caught up in the flawed world we have made for ourselves. But when I read the psalm more closely, I see a subtler message embedded in it. The other side of “don’t fret” in effect is “drop it, and just go out and do the good work.” The Message, a version of the Bible in modern language, has these lines: “Get insurance with God and do a good deed, settle down…, keep company with God.” In the passage from Matthew, Jesus cures “crowds” of people, then tells them to keep quiet about it and, I think it’s implied, go out yourself and serve others. Isaiah had predicted that God’s servant would not “wrangle or cry aloud” or shout in the streets but, as the psalmist puts it, would “trust in the Lord and do good.”

That is: Be at peace, don’t be afraid, and preach the Gospel by what you do. That’s not an easy order to fulfill, but it seems to be what we are called to try.

Written by Elliott West

Elliott teaches history at the University of Arkansas and has been a member of St. Paul’s for more than twenty-five years.

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