The readings today remind me of the importance and impact of language. In the passage from Acts, there is a lot of body language. The accusers are grinding their teeth. Stephen is gazing into heaven. Jesus is standing next to God. The very graphic stoning to death, while the accusers put their hands over their ears to prevent them from truly hearing. As Stephen said, they show themselves to be “uncircumcised in heart and ears” — not truly belonging to the people of God, not attentive to God’s word. Their body language riles the crowd and prevents them from paying attention and understanding. And lacking understanding, their actions quickly turn violent, because they cannot comprehend.
In the Gospel, there is biblical language in play. Alluding to the Exodus story, the crowd challenges Jesus to match the miracle of Moses, who gave their ancestors manna to eat. Jesus’ answer is a rereading of the text. He tells them that it was, in fact, God who gave them the manna, not Moses and that the same God now gives them the true bread of eternal life—Jesus himself, who is the prince of peace, the one who suffered rather than exact violence on others.
Sometimes we can misread language. We can tie ourselves into knots because of something we’ve misinterpreted in others’ speech or actions. Sometimes it’s useful to check how we use language, even with ourselves. A friend told me once to stop saying ‘I have to…’ and instead say ‘I get to…’ It’s only a word of difference, but if you use it in your internal monologue, it makes the world of difference.
In this time of lockdown where we have to stay in place, rather let’s say we get to stay in place. Who and what can we pay attention to?