The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
Today’s first reading is challenging. It admonishes us to put our rhetorical skills to good use. This is entirely in keeping with “eloquentia perfecta,” the Jesuit ideal of “right reason expressed eloquently.” In contrast to popular dismissal of “mere rhetoric,” Jesuit pedagogy stresses the integration of critical thinking with effective messaging. This is not just about setting your “face like flint,” but using moral discernment to arrive at that place where you must speak out in the hope of righting wrong.
We have seen examples of this in various human rights campaigns. But we have also seen rhetoric used to incite terrible violence and cruelty, and it has been done in the guise of moral certainty. To be effective is not to be moral. To be unwavering is not to be right. Isaiah urges us to listen and to seek God’s help that we might use our skills with both urgency and thoughtfulness.
—Bren Ortega Murphy, PhD is a faculty member in Communications Studies at Loyola University Chicago. She holds a joint appointment in Loyola’s Women’s Studies program.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
—traditional “Serenity Prayer”