In Matthew 12:33-37, Jesus said, “A tree is identified by its fruit…Whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.” 

In 1973, three cousins-in-law from the States came to live with our family just before the end of the school year. Like me, the sister was the oldest with two younger brothers. My brothers and I loved our expanded family.

At the rural school where I was finishing up third grade I was teased because I was darker-skinned than the rest of the students, so my streetwise cousins decided they would bike to the school every afternoon to safely escort me home. 

One afternoon, I emerged from the school to find a group of ashen-faced kids staring at my cousin in awed silence. Although she was only 12, she was built like an Amazonian. Apparently, one of the older boys had made the mistake of calling her the “N-Word.” 

“Boy,” she responded with her southern drawl, “talk what you know!” She then punctuated her short but unforgettable message with a resounding slap upside his thick head. Needless to say, there was no further name-calling.

How often do we, like that unfortunate young man, run our mouths and showcase our ignorance when we ridicule, malign and judge people and matters which we have little or no knowledge about? Whether it is the know-it-all who always weighs in with unsolicited opinions, the tale-bearer who never seems to be without a juicy tidbit of gossip or the grumbler who constantly criticizes others, our words often reveal more about the poverty of our own character and understanding than that of others. 

The kid spewing that nasty racial slur was simply parroting second-hand ignorance. He didn’t understand that those kids for whom he had inherited such a strong dislike, were first and foremost, kids just like him. He had no idea that mere weeks before, these children had witnessed the brutal murder of their mother and had been secreted out of their country and away to our sleepy little neighbourhood for their own protection. 

There is much in life that we do not know. As we will one day stand before God and have to give account for every careless and useless word we speak, we would do well to follow the advice of King Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 5:2 “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” Or as one young girl put it, “Talk what you know.”