Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday of the 1st Week of Lent

Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18 / Matthew 25:31-46

You shall not curse the deaf.

In the list of commands given by the Lord to the people of Israel in Leviticus 19, the command not to curse the deaf stands out. It is not, of course, that we imagine cursing the deaf to be a good thing to do, and so find ourselves shocked that God disapproves. Rather, it might not seem as obvious why cursing the deaf is especially a bad thing to do. After all, as opposed to cursing those who can hear, in cursing the deaf, the object of our malediction may well not know he has been cursed at all. If he should not hear about it, literally or figuratively, then where precisely is the harm in my speaking ill of him. For that matter, if I should speak ill of anyone in such a way that they do not hear about it, how can I be said to have harmed them?

Despite what we might imagine at first glance, there is in fact real and grave harm in speaking ill of another without his knowledge. In part, the harm is done to the person's good name. We are, after all, social creatures, made by God to thrive not each on our own in an isolated way, but in relation with others. When we speak ill of another person, even if what we say should be true, and even if he should never hear of it, we do real harm in how other people, or at the very least how we ourselves, see him. In cursing, which is to say, in speak ill, we make it more difficult for him, and depending on what we have said, we may even make it impossible for him to have those ordinary and general, as well as those particular and intimate connections with other persons, without which real human living cannot be had.

More than that, secretly speaking ill of another does real harm to the one who curses. Our standard, as God reminds his people Israel through Moses, is not to be harmless, but to be holy. So long as we think we can speak ill of others, even to think ill of them, only on the condition that it remains a secret, then we remain far from the holiness of God, which holiness is both our measure and our goal.

As we begin our Lent, we must attend not only to our public selves and the visible harm of our external acts, but perhaps even more we need to be attentive to the part of us which is too willing to curse the deaf. Let us, instead of gossip and detraction, submit our weakness in hope to the one who does not curse us in our deafness, but rather blesses us with his mercy, the Holy One, our Lord Jesus Christ.

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