A woman once went for confession, accusing herself badmouthing people. The confessor, a wise old man, listened lovingly, absolved her and gave her a strange penance. He told her to go home, get a hen and come back, plucking the bird’s feathers as she walked along the street.
When she had returned to him he said: “Now go back home and, as you go, pick up each feather that you plucked on the way.” The woman told him that it would be impossible since the wind had almost certainly blown them away in the meantime.
And the confessor told her “You see, just as it is impossible to pick up the feathers once the wind has scattered them, it is likewise impossible to gather gossip and calumnies back up once they have come out of our mouth.”
Source | based on Raniero Cantalamessa
preaching on Matthew 18:15-20. | September 05, 2008
HERE IS A VARIATION OF THE SAME STORY
A woman whose tongue was sharp and unkind was accused of starting a rumor.
She was brought before the village rabbi protesting,
“What I said was in jest … just humor!
My words were carried forth by others.
I am not to blame.”
But the victim cried for justice, saying,
“You’ve soiled my own good name!”
“I can make amends,” said the woman accused,
“I’ll just take back my words and assume I’m excused.”
The rabbi listened to what she said,
and sadly thought as he shook his head,
“This woman does not comprehend her crime,
She shall do it again and again in time.”
And so he said to the woman accused,
“Your careless words cannot be excused until …
You bring my feather pillow to the market square.
Cut it and let the feathers fly through the air.
When this task is done,
bring me back the feathers …
The woman reluctantly agreed.
She thought, “The wise old rabbi’s gone mad indeed!”
But to humor him, she took his pillow to the village square.
She cut it and feathers filled the air.
She tried to catch. She tried to snatch.
She tried to collect each one.
But weary with effort she clearly discovered,
the task could not be done.
She returned with very few feathers in hand.
“I couldn’t get them back, they’ve scattered over the land!
I suppose,” she sighed as she lowered her head,
“Like the words I can’t take back,
from the rumor I spread.”
Source | Heather Forest, Wisdom Tales from Around the World
(August House, 2005) pages 67-69
There are many ways to kill a person – shooting, stabbing, drowning, choking – but the easiest and simplest method is to invent a lie about someone. Whisper a lie about someone in an ear and see how this grows out of proportion, leading to a downward spiral of violence.