Madsen: We should use loving words

Published 9:25 am Saturday, March 18, 2017


Sticks and stones, goes the old saying, may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

It is a saying that is taught to children in order to help them develop resilience in the face of the way we sometimes mistreat one another.

What does it matter if someone calls you names? What does it matter if they insult you? Their words can only hurt you if you let them hurt you.

As one who has been called names, and been insulted by others, and has called other people names and insulted others, I am here to tell you that the old saying is 100 percent wrong.

Words – when used to hurt – do, indeed hurt. And they don’t just hurt the ones at whom they are directed. They hurt those who are in the fallout zone and those who hurl them.

We were reading from the Matthew’s gospel a few weeks ago in our worship services. We were reading from the early section of the treatment on the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus is seated before the gathered people in a manner reminiscent of Moses sitting before the Hebrews as they prepared to cross the Jordan and become the people Israel. And just as Moses recounted the Exodus journey and the Law to prepare people for life in the Promised Land, Jesus was sketching out the contours of life in the Kingdom which had come near in him.

We were reading the “you have heard it said, but I say to you” section. What a marvelous teaching. Jesus is reminding those with ears to hear that the letter of the law may be important to some, but the spirit of the law is important to all.

When he is talking about murder, he reminds his listeners that the ancient law limited the degree of retribution that might be sought following an injury to a level commensurate with the initial wrong. An eye for an eye, foot for a foot, burn for a burn, etc. You don’t mete out punishment greater than the injury and call it justice.

And then, he says that murder and anger are two sides of the same coin. Not everyday, run-of-the-mill anger. Anger of the magnitude that permits us to treat others as if their lives do not matter. Anger that might lead one to say to another person, “You are dead to me.” Or, at the least, allows them to treat the other as if that were true.

By that definition, we are quickly becoming a nation of murderers. I use that kind of extreme language intentionally, because as a person and as a pastor I am becoming concerned by how easily we discount the lives of others these days and treat people we do not like as if their lives were insignificant. And I am equally concerned by the less obvious damage that is done by indifference, not caring enough about others to expend the energy to have even an opinion about them.

I was driving recently behind another driver whose driving was annoying me. I was wanting to get somewhere and she was between me and my destination and I was getting frustrated and thinking things that kind persons should not think.

And then I remembered overhearing a young woman in a parking lot many years ago, saying to a man who had obviously said something impolite to her or had made a rude gesture in her direction, “How would you like it if someone treated your mother, or daughter, or sister that way?”

So, I began saying about the driver in front of me, “She is someone’s daughter and may be someone’s mother, someone’s sister, someone’s wife. She is a child of God.”

The words we use in talking to or about others, and ourselves, matter. We should use them well and wisely. We should use the correct words. We should use polite words. We should use loving words. Because when we don’t we diminish others and ourselves and the bonds of community are weakened.

I say that as a pastor, and a person, and a disciple who is trying hard to do the same.


– Bob Madsen is pastor of First Presbyterian Church and a member of the Greater Andalusia Ministerial Alliance. The views expressed are his own.