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Things That Come Out of the Mouth


When I was around 14 years of age, my parents bought me a Pentron stereophonic reel-to-reel tape recorder.
 
It weighed about 30 pounds — a far cry from the tiny digital devices we use today.
 
I didn’t need a tape recorder, so this was an expensive toy that I played around with until I got myself into trouble.
 
The occasion was a casual Sunday dinner that included my immediate family and two other couples with whom we socialized a lot.
 
Anticipating that there would be a lot of chatter at the dining room table, I thought it would be fun to secretly record the conversation, so I hid the Pentron behind an upholstered arm chair that stood just inside the next room.
 
I put the switch in the “on” position so that when everyone had settled in around the table, all I had to do was put the plug in a socket.
 
The Pentron recorded for two hours until the tape ran out and we could hear the loose end slapping against the recorder as the reel continued to spin.
 
I was found out.
 
When I confessed what I had done, the six adults at the table laughed and encouraged me to put the recorder on the table and play back the tape.
 
When they heard their own voices, they stopped laughing.
 
They turned on me and demanded that I rewind the tape to the beginning and erase it while they watched.
 
Of course, I had no business recording a conversation that they had a right to assume was private.
 
But what I found interesting was that they got angry at me not after discovering my prank but after listening to what they had been saying — specifically the critical things they had been saying about folks who were not present.
 
I’m not sure those people would have thought twice about that conversation if the tape hadn’t thrown it back at them.
 
I think about that incident whenever I read that passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which Jesus is commenting on the emphasis the religious leaders of his time placed on purity laws, asking Jesus why his disciples didn’t wash their hands before a meal.
 
The question wasn’t concerned with hygiene but with ridding the hands of any contamination they may have incurred from touching something that was ritually unclean.
Jesus derided the idea that such practices were enough to keep a person at peace with God and the world.
 
“It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person,” he told the crowd. “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile.’’
 
And Jesus mentioned some heavy-duty sins as coming from the heart: “murder, adultery, un-chastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy.”
 
There was nothing unusual about what those chatterboxes said around the dinner table at our house, and that’s what’s most significant about it. It was a casual conversation of a kind that many of us engage in at one time or another, maybe not the root of blasphemy, adultery, or murder, but unkind, imprudent, perhaps corrosive enough to tarnish a reputation, perhaps invasive enough to violate a confidence.
 
In other words, it was the kind of conversation that many of us have without thinking twice but that, if we heard it played back, might summon us to a change of heart.
 
Charles Paolino is a member of the RENEW staff and a permanent Deacon in the Diocese of Metuchen.

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