“What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you say.

This quote is a favorite of mine. It’s certainly not original to me. Most who occupy their time searching for the origin of quotes believe it to be a variation of a saying attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson in an essay published in 1895. The essay is titled “Social Aims” and the original quote reads: “Don’t say things. What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.”

What a great quote! I wish Jesus had said it to the scribes and Pharisees. Instead, he summed up the gist of this quote in a single word: hypocrites! Not once but half a dozen times, Jesus hurls this insult in the direction of the scribes and Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Take a look at Matthew 23 and count the times. The passage begins with Jesus warning the crowd and his disciples by saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”

Anytime I read about the scribes and Pharisees, I squirm just a little. Remember, before they were cast into the role of the “bad guys,” they were the most respected, dedicated, disciplined, and studious leaders of the Jewish community. As pastors and teachers in Christ’s church, are we not the modern-day counterpart of the scribes and Pharisees?

If we were to poll the general public outside the Bible Belt, Christian leaders might not fare any better than the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’s day. This is not what we want to hear. However, if the church has an image problem, we need to face it. Perhaps we need to heed Emerson’s advice and stop talking. Instead of ruminating over what we will say next, perhaps we need to be listening. What can we learn from the critical voices of those who have walked away or never crossed the threshold of the church?

What can we learn about ourselves that may be contributing to the negative perception others have of the church? What action does the church need to take to make amends with any who have been hurt or harshly judged by members of the church? If we, the church, are not leading with love, welcoming the stranger, proclaiming the good news of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ, then it’s time we ask ourselves who we are representing?

During this season of Lent, as we reflect on our walk with Christ, may we also take note of our walk with our neighbor and one another. For Christ’s sake, may we remember to do as Saint Francis of Assisi is credited with saying: “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”


Janice Six is associate pastor of First Central Presbyterian Church

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