5th Sunday of Easter May 2, 2021
If you follow sports like soccer that I’m familiar with, or better yet, if you’ve ever played it, you know that there are basically two kinds of players. And please, I’m not talking about good players and not-so-good players. I’m thinking about the quiet ones and the talkers. In my experience, some players simply go about their business on the field without hardly saying a word. They don’t yell at referees. They don’t taunt the other team. They don’t brag before, during, or after a game. They just play hard and let their actions speak for themselves.
But some players never STOP talking. Before a game they babble on about how they are going to beat the other team, or make sure their supporters know how great they are. During games they scream at officials and sometimes even at players on their own team. And they continually try to get in the “ear” of the opponent, “trash-talking” as it is often called. Now, some players are good enough to “back it up”, can perform at a level equal to the talk, can fulfill the promises and predictions they have made. And when that happens — opponents are more likely to accept all the boasting and confidence and trash-talk. It’s the performance that garners the respect of the competition.
But if someone continually runs his or her mouth and doesn’t come through, doesn’t perform well, it’s a much different story, especially when they give a hundred excuses as to why it happened. In that case, the person looks kind of foolish, and opponents have a really hard time respecting that person. That’s understandable. And when a person acts that way, we often say,
“Well, he surely TALKS a good game.”
Of course, what’s meant by that statement is that the words and the actions of that person don’t match and that what is said by that person doesn’t translate into their performance. The words are, in a very real sense, empty.
“Children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth.”
So says St. John in the opening line of our Second Reading. We must remember that, in the earliest days of Christianity, all they had was a great story to tell. And not just any story of course but the greatest story ever told. And for how incredible that story was, the words themselves would not be enough. What people would respond to was the DIFFERENCE that belief made in the lives of those first believers. It wouldn’t be okay to simply SAY the right things, SAY things that inspired people, give a message people needed to hear.
No, but for the Gospel message, the Good News, to be embraced by all who heard it proclaimed, they would need to also see it lived out, see a change in the way those first Christians lived, see the impact of their beliefs fleshed out in concrete ways. John seems to have known that (to use modern language) talking a good game would not be enough. Believers would have to “produce on the field”, would have to “back up” their claims with tangible results – with day-to-day choices that showed others that, their words weren’t simply that – words.
The question is – “Don’t we often fall into that trap? Don’t we sometimes simply ‘talk’ a good game?”
It’s painful to consider that question honestly. I pray for people not to go hungry, but do I do anything to actually feed someone? I get up before this community and talk about the necessity of letting go of grudges and being forgiving people, but I know that I’m not quite as kind to some people who have hurt me. I say that all people are precious to God, yet I often pre-judge people and come to conclusions about them before I even get to know them. I often talk about the importance of giving from our want and not just from our excess, yet in reality I don’t deny myself much. And I go on-and-on about how everything we do must be done out of love, yet know that my motives toward almost everything are mixed.
Yes, I talk a good game, but (u fill in the gap . . . .).
The Gospel passage we heard is familiar to us all. Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. There is an intimate connection between us, a bond that sustains us, a closeness that is life-giving. This metaphor is summed up by Jesus in his beautiful words,
“Remain in me, as I remain in you.”
And that really gets at the heart of the matter. My friends, our faith teaches us some pretty incredible things. That God the Son became one of us. That God the Son died for us. That God the Son rose from the dead and is alive. But there is one more thing that is just as incredible. Our God doesn’t just live “out there” somewhere. He lives in you and he lives in me.
And that makes all the difference in the world. Or at least it should. Let’s make sure that our faith isn’t just words, or aren’t just beliefs that rattle around in our heads. Rather, let’s make sure that our faith is a living faith, one that shapes the choices we make, one that allows the God in each of us be poured into the world through every loving thing we do.
And with that no one will be able to say that we just talk a good game.