1502) Flying Feathers and Careless Words

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TWO OLD STORIES:

     A woman whose tongue was sharp and unkind was accused of starting a rumor.  She was brought before the village rabbi to be reprimanded, but she protested: “What I said was all in fun.  I was only joking.  Besides, it was others in the village who carried my words forth.  I am not to blame.”

     But the victim cried for justice, saying, “You’ve soiled my own good name!”

     “I can make amends,” said the woman accused.  “I’ll just take back my words and you can excuse me.”

     The rabbi listened to what she said, and sadly thought as he shook his head, “This woman does not comprehend her crime, so she will do it again and again.”

     And so he said to the woman accused, “Your careless words cannot be excused until you bring this feather pillow to the market square.  Cut it and let the feathers fly through the air.  When this task is done, bring me back all the feathers; every last one.”

     The woman reluctantly agreed.  She thought, “The wise old rabbi’s gone mad indeed!”  But to humor him, she took his pillow to the village square.  She cut it and feathers went flying in the wind.

     She ran and ran, this way and that way.  She tried to catch this feather and that feather.  But for every one she picked up, a hundred blew farther and farther away.  Weary with effort she clearly discovered that the task could not be done.

     She returned with very few feathers in hand.  “I could not get them back,” she said, ” for they have scattered over the land.”  She sighed as she lowered her head and said, “I suppose that is like the words I can’t take back from the rumor I spread.”

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     Socrates was visited by an acquaintance of his.  Eager to share some juicy gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to know the story he’d just heard about a friend of theirs.  Socrates held up his hand to silence the man and asked, “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” 

     The man shook his head. “No, I actually just heard about it, and …”  

     Socrates cut him off.  “You don’t know for certain that it is true, then.”

     “No, I do not know if it is true, ” said the man.

     Socrates then asked, “Is what you want to say something good or kind?”  

     Again, the man shook his head. “No.  Actually, just the opposite.  You see …”

     Socrates again lifted his hand to stop the man from speaking.  “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true, and it isn’t good or kind.  One more question remains, though, so you may yet still tell me.  Is this information useful or necessary to me or anyone?” 

     Defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”

     “Well, then,” Socrates said turning away, “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say it at all.”

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Proverbs 6:16-19  —  There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Proverbs 16:28  —  A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends.

Proverbs 26:18-20  —  Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”  Without wood a fire goes out; without a gossip a quarrel dies down.

Ephesians 4:29  —  Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

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PRAYER BASED ON THE EIGHTH COMMANDMENT, AND LUTHER’S SMALL CATECHISM EXPLANATION :

O God, you command us not to bear false witness against our neighbor.  May we so fear and love you that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor; but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way; through Jesus Christ,  your Son, our Lord.  Amen.

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