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  • David Ager

Thought For Today: James 1:19

“Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak.” James 1:19

There are some people who never seem to stop talking. When we find them at the other end of the ‘phone, delighted as we are to hear from them, we know that it is going to be quite some time before we can get back to whatever it was we were doing before.

Then there are others who hardly ever seem to say a word. Someone I knew was once accused by his wife of talking very little, leaving her feeling she must do all the work in conversation when they entertained a visitor. He justified his position by saying that if he had nothing to say, then he didn’t say it. It was hard to argue with that – though it was of no help to his wife at all!

Saying nothing can be a wise course of action sometimes. But it can also be quite obstructive: when a person will not talk or engage, it is very hard to move a situation forward and resolve whatever the issue facing them is.

Sometimes silence is hurtful. At the opening of Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear”, the king gathers his three daughters and invites them to profess the extent of their love for him, as a basis for dividing up his kingdom and allotting parts to each. The first two make fulsome speeches and are duly rewarded. The third, when invited to speak, replies that she has nothing to say. The king, in a famous line, gives her a second chance: “Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.” But she will not make any pretence; she will go no further than to say she loves him to the extent of her duty as a daughter and no more. In his anger, he disowns her.

The gospel accounts tell us Jesus said many things, but there was one notable occasion when he said not a word. Hauled up before the authorities and subjected to a mock trial, the Roman governor Pilate confronted him with the list of charges against him. He remained totally silent (as he also did when sent off to see Herod). Matthew says that Pilate was amazed, and we can understand that. Surely this was his big opportunity to justify himself and refute the charges? So why pass it up?

Speaking out in answer would only lead to a verbal slanging match and also risk thwarting God’s call and purpose. Jesus knew there was only one way to overcome the broken state of the world and our lives within it and so willingly and silently submitted to condemnation and death in order to confront evil face to face with his greater power – and go on to share the victory with us.

Whether we are copious talkers or more sparing with our words, may God grant us to know exactly what he is calling us to do and what is right for each occasion so that, in every encounter with others we will, as St Paul puts it, “have the right answer for everyone” – whether that involves words or not.

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