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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Achoo (04/11/13)

TITLE: Gesundheit
By Ron Barnes


When somebody sneezes in the United States, a friend might say “Bless you” or “Gesundheit”. The latter response is German for “good health”. Similar wishes for good health in response to a sneeze are found in Albanian, Dutch, Latvian, Norwegian, Spanish and other languages. But why do we find it necessary to respond at all? We usually do not respond in this way to a cough, a belch or other bodily functions.

In ancient times, a sneeze was seen as a gift from the gods. Since it was a spontaneous act which the person could not control, it had to be a gift from the gods. A sneeze was seen as a sign of impending good fortune. In fact, in ancient mythology, a sneeze from a god was a sign of approval of human actions. In more modern times, however, a sneeze had more ominous implications.

It was once believed, for example, that a person’s soul could be blasted from their body by an explosive sneeze. A blessing was needed to protect the exposed soul until it could return to the sneezer. Others believed that a sneeze expelled demons which might have been residing within the sneezer. The blessing was to prevent their return. And some thought of a sneeze as a sign of impending disease, possibly fatal. The blessing was a benediction to commend the soul of the imminently departing to God.

Today, of course, the response is nothing more than a wish for good health directed at the sneezer. It’s a way of saying, “I hope it’s just a momentary thing” or “I hope you’re not coming down with something”. To some, it is merely a thoughtless response. People say it because everybody else does. It carries no real concern for the health of the afflicted. The words are said and the incident is forgotten.

This leads me to wonder how many other expressions of sympathy and concern are merely “lip service”. When we hear about the misfortunes of others, the common response is “I’m sorry to hear that”. Are we really sorry to hear that? How many have said those words while thinking, “Better you than me, pal”? I am reminded of Matthew 15:8- These people draw nigh unto me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

We are commanded to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. If we were really following this commandment, we would be able to put ourselves in another’s shoes and wonder what we would want from others if we found ourselves in their situation. Surely we would want more than just empty words spoken to observe a rule of etiquette. But that might require us to actually feel that person’s discomfort. The desire to avoid discomfort is basic to our human nature. So we settle for observing the social ritual and go on with our lives as if nothing has happened.

I seriously doubt that Jesus would consider that an act of love.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Judith Gayle Smith04/19/13
Thank you for saying seriously what I was trying to convey. Many think I am being humorous when I am trying to get their attention concerning vain repititions. This is so well researched and written. I truly appreciate you.
Joanne Sher 04/21/13
Excellent message - we definitely don't think about these kinds of things enough. Vain repetitions are denounced in His Word - yet often we use them. Great thoughts here!