The Power of Words
15th Sunday in OT

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

A professor in a college English class said to his students, "If you will just take a new word and use it 10 times, it will be yours forever." Whereupon, a young woman in the class looked dreamily out of the window and sighed, "Johnny, Johnny, Johnny,…"

Though not completely unrelated to the subject at hand, let us move on to something more serious. Some time ago, I was talking with a lady who came for counseling. She told me that she had been hearing all kinds of things said against her. She was very much bothered because what were said were not true and they were destroying her reputation. "They are sowing intrigue against me," she concluded.

In response I told her that one reality in life is that we could not stop people from talking and, in her case, from talking against her. So I advised her not to be bothered by what others say as long as her conscience was clear; the problem was not in her but in the others. Finally, I asked her to use a saying which I myself use when I go through a similar experience: "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words never hurt me."

Also, a couple of years ago, I came across an article written by a Grade 5 pupil which was published in a national daily. Here are parts of what she wrote:

"Each of us needs encouragement. If we don't receive encouragement, we wilt away inside.

"Sometimes a parent or teacher tells a child, 'You know that you are not able to do that, stupid!' This stinging rebuke never leaves the child's subconscious. When the child starts to believe he is stupid, then he can't accomplish anything worthwhile. He is permanently disabled, and he can't have great hopes for the future.

"But if you say, 'Go for it! I know you can!' you give the child hope. The child will believe that indeed he can do it and he will." She ended with this appeal, "So let's go out there and tell as many children as we can that they have the power - the power to believe, the power to succeed. Let's tell them they can make a difference and their deeds will never fade or be forgotten."

Pretty deep and powerful stuff for a child of 11! Definitely, words have power and they can affect our lives. A word of appreciation can make our day bright and beautiful. An insulting word can ruin our day and even cause us sleepless nights. In short, words can make us or even cripple us for life.

If human words are such, all the more is God's word. For Him, to speak is the same as the to do. When He says, "Let there be…," there is. That is how the whole of creation, including human beings, came into existence.

The prophet Isaiah compares the power of God's word with rain vis-a-vis its effect on us (Is. 55: 10-11). Just as rain falls and makes the earth fruitful, so God's word comes down to us and enriches our lives. If our lives are not enriched then we frustrate God.

The Parable of the Sower (Mt. 13:1-23) tells us how different people respond to God's Word. During the time of Christ, farmers first sowed the seeds and then plowed them under. So the seeds could fall on different kinds of soil - on a footpath, on rocky ground, among thorns or on good soil. Obviously, the yield depends on the kind of soil on which the seeds fall. As Christ explained later, the seed is His word and God is the Sower. Whether the seed grows or not, or when it grows, whether it will yield abundant harvest or not, depends on the kind of soil on which it falls.

We are the soil. What kind of soil are we on which the seed, the Word of God, is sowed? Are we disposed to God's word and therefore embrace it, allow it to grow in us and make us the person God wants us to become? Or are we so indisposed to His word that we do not even allow it to sprout in us?

God's word saves. But it cannot save us unless we allow it to. The fundamental truth about salvation is that it is a joint effort: God's saving word and man's cooperation with it. God, all-powerful that He is, cannot save us without our cooperation. For He will be contradicting Himself if He forces Himself on us since He created us with intellect and free will. It is thus in our power to use those faculties to accept or reject God's saving action in us.

This reality helps us understand why many people do not accept Christ or why, after accepting Him, later abandon Him. This also explains why some people achieve sanctity. The divine rule for our salvation is really very simple: No cooperation on our part, no effect in us of God's Word.

Knowing this, let us look seriously into our selves and find out what our internal disposition to God's word is. Are we or are we not open to His saving word? Our very salvation depends on our answer to this question.