Actions and words: some pre-emptive reflections

This coming Sunday’s Gospel reading (from the RCL) tells the story of two sons asked to go and work in the family vineyard. One says no, but later goes anyway. One says yes, but fails to carry through.

There are various cultural cliches about words and actions that spring to mind at this point:

“Actions speak louder than words”

“Do as I say, not as I do”

or even Mary Poppins’ “pie crust promise: easily made and easily broken”

I am struck by our culture’s description of a basic contrast between words and actions. Because it seems to me that words are active. A word can create a bond, a vow, a promise. It can end a relationship. Working side by side, words can build universes. They are spoken, or written, or read, or heard, or promised, or preached, or emailed, blogged and facebooked; they are tweeted and calligraphed, signed, whispered, shouted, translated and misunderstood. Otherwise, they are like trees in the forest falling with no one around.

I don’t know where this week’s readings are taking me yet. I really hope I get a clue before Sunday. But, for the moment, I am letting my imagination be piqued not so much by what the sons did as by what they said. Why did they answer their father in the ways that they did? What were they trying to hide, prove, provoke, promise?

What were they trying to say?

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