Our Inner Life: Proverbs 10:32-11:10, especially vss. 10:33: “The lips of the righteous man distill grace, but the mouth of the ungodly is perverse.” The Book of Proverbs presents a series of poetic pairings that contrast types of people and behaviors: the righteous vs. the ungodly, humility vs. arrogance, blamelessness vs. wrongdoing, discernment vs. lack of perception. We are led by these parallels to consider the state of our own hearts and souls – the hidden, inner life of every person.
The Lord Jesus says, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” (Mt 12:34-35). The Apostle James deepens the issue further with a bitter truth we know only too well: “The tongue. . . . is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing” (Jas 3:8-11).
Saint James is correct in his assessment of our tendency to bless God one moment and curse our neighbor the next. One moment I am weeping over evil or lifting up my voice in devotion to the Lord, while the next I find myself snarling contemptuously at others. “I know mine iniquity, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps 50:3). Who will deliver us from the insidious enemy within? What will satisfy our yearning to be “seen . . . righteous before [God] in this generation” (Gn 7:1)?
On the surface of things, it appears that we simply need to make up our minds to act righteously – to speak only good things. If we monitor our speech and actions and choose always to bless, we will surely distill grace and wisdom from our hearts. This does not seem so very difficult, and yet we find it impossible to do!
Although there may be some benefits to this direct and rational approach, our longstanding habits seize control despite our best intentions. Today’s reading recounts the tragic outcome: “The tongue . . . utterly destroys” (Prv 10:32) and “the ungodly perishes” (vs. 11:6). Deceit is an abomination before God (vs. 1), and lawless men are destroyed (vs. 5). Indeed, we cannot escape the consequences that follow from our wicked acts and words.
Another impediment stands in the way of our direct attempts at goodness: we may be diligent, scrupulous, and righteous for a time, but then we turn into hypocrites. Actually, two problems emerge when we resolutely determine always to do right. First, we tend to rely upon our own will, leaving God no part in our efforts except to reward us when we do or say good things (Lk 18:11). Second, we may seek to mask our deep, hidden reservoir of sin, pride, and meanness beneath a righteous fac?ade. Alas, the parable of the Publican and the Pharisees exposes us with its blazing light (Lk 18:10-14)!
Should we then despair? By no means! Saint Nikolai of Zicha writes that “when divine love came to the heart of man, with it came everything . . . wisdom and power, and purity and compassion and righteousness and bravery and endurance and clairvoyance and tranquility and joy and every goodness.” God’s love causes mouths to distill grace and lips to meditate on wisdom. Saint Nikolai’s text continues, “The entire history of the Church confirms this. By the illuminations of the love of Christ, bumpkins have developed wisdom, cowards become martyrs, rakes saints, misers benefactors, kings and rich men slaves of Christ, wolves lambs, and lambs lions” (Kassiana, p. 61-2).
Let us take hope, for every good deeds and act of righteousness grows out of the Lord’s love and not our own. We are baptized into Christ so that His forgiveness, love, and grace may continuously move us toward repentance and purity.