“We must speak out! We CANNOT be silent! Silence makes evil possible!” We hear this a lot nowadays, and I confess, I have great sympathy for this message. I’m a preacher, after all. And the public and fearless declaration of the Gospel is normal for we Christians through history.
But, as usual, a one-sided perspective on this will lead to a lack of sobriety and balance. There is an equal witness to the power of silence in the face of the insanity of we humans. Our Lord Jesus Himself remained silent when confronted by Pilate, so much so that Pilate marveled that He was quiet in the face of the accusations. The truth is there are as many witnesses to the power of silence as the lovingly motivated loud declaration of the Truth. I find it easier to speak than be silent, and I find it hard to know when one is better than the other, especially in light of the insanity of our modern society. Perhaps it’s better not to judge how another chooses to face the madness of our day. Just a thought.
This is why I love learning from the example and wisdom of our Lord Jesus in how He dealt even with similar circumstances in different ways!
Look at our Lesson today in Mark 1:16-22:
At that time, Jesus, passing along by the Sea of Galilee, saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boats mending the nets. And immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and followed him. And they went into Capernaum; and immediately on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
Jesus taught differently than the people were used to hearing. They were used to hearing scholars discuss the finer points of theological ideas. They were used to hearing their teachers speak about the teachings of the Jewish faith in ways that seemed to the regular people to lack conviction and deep belief. But Jesus “taught them as one who had authority.” What an indictment of the religious leaders of the Lord’s day, and ours!
So, what do you suppose caused such a stark contrast between the Lord’s preaching and the teachers of the day? Was it content? They were both drawing from the same revelation God had given the Jewish nation through Moses and the Prophets. Was it education? In a population where literacy wasn’t the norm, the scribes and teachers were very well educated. Was it because Jesus was God in the flesh, and who was going to hold a candle to that? Well, the people seemed to be able to tell that the Lord knew what He was talking about, that’s for sure. But I have to believe the Lord’s authority flowed from something much more significant: The difference was between someone who possessed information and Someone Who genuinely loved His hearers!
Jesus loved the people He was speaking to and He spoke to them out of a love for them to see them change their lives. And it was the love that produced the power that energized the word! Plus, our Lord used silence at strategic times to amplify His words! This also flowed from a love for His hearers. But it also flowed from His love for His Father. Both Silence and Speech HAVE TO flow from a motivation of Love for others AND God or else it will always suffer from weakness.
Today, we will never communicate with power if we don’t truly love the person hearing our words. Good public speaking can be learned. Effective communication skills can be developed even in the most “ungifted” public speaker. But you can’t counterfeit true love! The difference between a good preacher and a great preacher isn’t his cosmetic dentist-produced smile. It isn’t his $100 haircut. No, effective communication of the Gospel comes when one has a deep conviction of the eternal Truth of the Christian Message coupled with self-sacrificing love for those who are hungry souls gather to be fed the “Word.” That is true preaching “as one who has authority.” And that, dearest one, flows always from a heart transfigured by love for God and love for my neighbor. It’s how you communicate the message and be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord, I struggle with silence, and yet I know that spiritual discipline requires I practice silence so that my words will be measured and effective. But silence demands that I love enough to be attentive enough and focused enough to WANT my words to be effective. And that takes the focus off me and my ego and places it on You and my neighbor. Please help me love You and my neighbor enough to be silent. Amen.