A man said to his two sons, “I need you to do a job for me”. One son said “no”, the other son said “yes”—but that’s not how it happened. In fact, the son who said “no” changed his mind and did the job, while the son who said “yes” got involved in something else and never followed through.
It’s a simple story, told by Jesus in Matthew 21, and the point is clear: making the right noises is good, but doing the right thing is better. It’s a point our human hearts need reminding of, and often. Our world is obsessed with words, impressed by words, drowning in words. As someone who enjoys writing, I take great delight in finding the right phrase and spinning it around until I find just the right way to turn it. But no matter how hard I work at this, I have to admit: it’s always easier to find words for ideas than it is to act on them. It’s easier to write a love song than it is to genuinely give yourself for the good of another person. It’s easier to rail against the proud and greedy than it is to stop being those things myself. It’s easier to say “consistency is key in raising children” than it is to be consistent while raising actual children. In almost every area of life, it’s easier to say the right thing than it is to do the right thing.
Maybe that’s one reason why we love words so much. If we say the right things enough, it almost seems like we’ve done them. Other people might be convinced, and we might be convinced as well, and none of that matters very much if what we actually do doesn’t match our words. We have a word for that, and it’s not a complimentary one. At the end of time, the same Jesus who told the story about the two sons will say to some people who lived their whole lives with all the right words flowing out of their mouths: “Depart from me, I never knew you”. Then he’ll turn to others, and say: “Well done, my good and faithful servant”. Not “Well said”, or “Well tweeted”—“Well done”.
I’m not saying that we should stop saying the right things. I’m just saying we can’t stop with saying them.