Action and Fruit

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Saturday in the week of Advent 1, Year 2 (5 December 2015)

Matthew 22:16 ~ “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.”

People say a lot of things; people often say a lot of things they believe and, pretty much just as often, they say a lot of things they don’t believe. The Pharisees and the Herodians who said this to Jesus pretty obviously didn’t believe what they said to him. If they had truly believed that Jesus taught “the way of God in accordance with the truth,” they would not have been trying to trap him with a trick question about taxes.

Our nation is still coming to grips with the latest mass shooting, the 355th of the calendar year to date. The killing of 14 people at the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center and the wounding of many more is the worst mass murder since the Sandy Hook school shooting. We can all, I’m sure, remember the statements of our political leaders at that time: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.” We remember them well because they have said them again after this week’s event, as they have said them after every mass murder between Sandy Hook and San Bernardino.

I don’t believe them anymore, and I don’t believe that they believe them. I have come to believe that a politician standing before a microphone saying “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” is no more sincere than were the Herodians and Pharisees talking to Jesus in the Temple. Their words are lies and they know it.

Saying “our thoughts and prayers are with you” is a lie. The politicians who say it aren’t thinking at all … if they thought the least little bit, they would think of ways to regulate gun ownership. They also aren’t praying … real prayer leads to action. “Never pray for anything you aren’t willing to work for,” my grandfather taught me.

He also was fond of the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.” Jesus said something similar, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Mat 7:16) The silence of our political leaders’ inaction is deafening. The bitter fruit of their inaction is inedible.

The Bible most of them claim to follow says very clearly: “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2:15-17)

If a nation is riddled by daily gun death, and one of you says, “I’m praying for you,” and yet you do nothing to end the gun violence, what is the good of that? So prayers, by themselves, if they have no attendant action, are a lie.

These politicians who “think and pray” but do not follow up with action, who do not bear fruit, cheapen both thought and prayer into meaninglessness. I don’t believe their words anymore, and I don’t believe they believe them.

Appearing with the Bishop of Los Angeles shortly after the San Bernardino shooting, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry said, “We must combine our prayers with work.”

This is what it means to believe: to combine prayer with work, to follow thought with action, to offer prayer and produce fruit.