There is a chasm between action and words. A better-lived life blends the two seamlessly, while a less virtuous life accepts the dichotomy. The common phrase, “actions speak louder than words,” has a deep meaning for many people. No one wants to hear useless words not backed up by the action they imply. Possibly, intuitively, you know the person who does not back up their words with action and is trying to stall for more time or, worse, outright trying to deceive you.
The tendency of human beings to be deceptive goes back to the beginning of time. With the help of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, we have a clearer sense of Original Sin and how that break from God has infected each person. The debacle in the Garden of Eden started with deception when the devil lured our first parents away from good to embrace evil. Once they accepted the devil’s lie, their very beings changed, and the effect was seen in how Adam related to Eve and vice versa. After they had sinned, their nakedness became an issue.
Original Sin fundamentally changed how people relate to each other. Before sin, Adam and Eve were naked; afterward, it was incumbent upon them to be clothed. Pope John Paul II explains the experience by observing a fundamental break between the interior spirit of the person and his outward physical demeanor. The other could no longer be certain that the physical expression was utterly harmonious with the person’s intentions and motives. Their clothes symbolized protection from the other by hiding a person’s core reflected in their reproductive anatomy so that they cannot objectify the other for sordid reasons. Original Sin is the flaw in our nature that leads to a temptation for a person to be less than transparent. Only through God’s grace can a human being’s nature be strengthened to conquer the temptation of being fake.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul makes the struggle apparent, “For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not.” He goes on to say, “Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body?” His resolution to his question is Jesus Christ, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Therefore, I myself, with my mind, serve the law of God but, with my flesh, the law of sin.”
Jesus was aware of the lasting consequence of Original Sin and offered a parable about two brothers that exemplifies the theme. The first son gave lip service to his father, telling him he would go to the vineyard but never intended to be good to his word. He originally placated his father with no intention of obeying his wish. The lack of the first son’s transparency is without question.
The second son was no saint either but proved his interior life was more in concert with his physical life than his brother’s. He first objected to the request for his labor, and you can be pretty confident in how he felt internally at the time of the command. The second relented and did as his father wished, a conversion of some kind.
The story about the two sons was directed to the Scribes and Pharisees and, by extension, to all with the question of which of the sons fulfilled the will of God. The parable tells us the religious elites answered correctly that the second son did the father’s will, but their answer was elicited for all the wrong reasons. The religious elites of the time demanded religious obedience but often did not extend the demand to themselves. They constantly spoke about God but did not realize they, too, needed repentance even when the Truth of God was made known through the preaching of St. John the Baptist. “When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him.” The religious leaders Jesus spoke to had no idea he was questioning the split between their interior lives and their exterior expressions. To be righteous, one cannot only talk about God because it does not fulfill the Father’s will. The will of the heavenly Father is for his loved ones to repent, which changes our interior disposition to match the words about him.
To drive down the point, Jesus tells the Scribes and Pharisees that tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the Kingdom before they will. The two groups of people engaging in tax collection or prostitution would not be the ones speaking anything about God and his ways, but the Scribes and Pharisees never ceased to talk. When the vilest of society heard John the Baptist’s warning about repentance, the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him, and their actions spoke volumes over any words they could have said. The transparency displayed by these two groups of sinners made them closer to the Kingdom than those who only talked about it.
The lesson for us today is to strive to have our words match our actions. Pray and ask for God’s grace to achieve this saintly virtue.