All hat and no cattle

Norfolk people are not given to high praise. If you ask somebody what something was like they might not go so far as to say it was good, but rather say ‘that weren’t too bad’. Neither upon being asked how they are, might they venture to say they are well, but rather ‘fair to middlin’ or ‘could be worse.’Norfolk men, in contrast to the women, can be inclined to be taciturn. My grandfather complained about his garrulous sister Elsie, of whom he used to say ‘she run on like a two bob watch.

It is not good to talk a lot but not follow up words with deeds. Curiously in the North they would say a man is all mouth and trousers, whareas in the South he is all mouth and no trousers. In Texas they would describe him as all hat and no cattle.  

The words of  Jesus are anything but empty. Peter recognizes this when he says that Jesus has the message, the words of eternal life. The words of Jesus have proved divisive, his discourse on being the bread of life sent down from heaven has proved too much for some of his followers to bear. No doubt they did not leave the synagogue quietly, there must have been uproar as they argued among themselves about what Jesus was saying. The word of God had penetrated like a sword, cutting and dividing.

John says these disciples walked no more with Jesus, they would hear no more the Word of God in Jesus, and Jesus does not beg them to stay; the vine is being pruned, and Jesus is left with the stem of the twelve.

Right from the beginning of the Gospel, John focuses on Jesus as the Word: the Word that was with God, the Word that was God. The Word became incarnate in the flesh of Jesus for the Word could not have form in this world without a body with a larynx to utter it. The physical body of Jesus was the vehicle of the Holy Spirit, and therefore gave life.

At theological College, there was a difference in how students read the scripture readings. One student who read the scripture in a staccato manner was told that he had the delivery of a machine gun. Some read the reading with no emotion or intonation, to supposedly let the words speak for themselves. Others suppressed their accents and spoke in parsonical voices. I asked a friend from the Midlands why he did not read scripture with his natural accent ‘ah always find that a Black Country accent murders the gospel,’  he replied.

Certain things that we have been told over the years stay with us. Much is forgotten, mercifully, but there are words that stay with us. I remember being told once ‘If you don’t know what to say, say nothing.’ Advice that is timely, a comment that is enlightening, a statement that is memorable, can all prove enduring, that is why we collect them in books of quotations.

The words of Jesus were so memorable that they were passed on by numerous people, recorded by a few, and are now possessed by millions through the printed word. The words at the time had power, the words were the agent of healing that accompanied the action, 'take up your bed and walk', 'be healed', 'Lazarus come out'.

The Word of God uttered through Jesus can have power in us, if we take that word to heart, if we let it grow in good soil in our hearts.

The Israelites at the time of Moses and Joshua, were a fickle people, they would follow God when things went well for them and turn to other gods when he did not perform for them as they should, despite their fervent promises to follow God. Many times they were all hat and no cattle. Peter too would prove to be no better, despite his fervent protestations of loyalty to Christ.

The Word of God like the Spirit of God can flow through us, for we too are vehicles of the Spirit moved to spread the Word of God that needs to be heard. The Word of God is not just a historical narrative of what happened in the past, it is alive, spoken to us anew each day.

Just to hear the Word of God is not enough. We must be doers of the word and not just hearers. We must take it to heart and live by it. If we do, then the word of God through the power of the Spirit will bring us life in all abundance.


Joshua 24:1-18;  John 6:60-69