Do I Have Lettuce in My Teeth? (23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 7, 2014)

Say you’re eating dinner with a group and everything is going well. You say something funny, and Chris flashes a full-teeth-exposing smile, and oh! The horror! he has a large piece of lettuce stuck in his teeth. So what do you do?Do you tell him?Do you hope his next glass of water will do the trick?Do you just ignore it?

Well, in Sunday’s Gospel Jesus says, you tell them!! But that’s hard. I mean, is it my place to tell someone they’ve got lettuce in their teeth?While Jesus is extraordinarily patient with human foibles, he is also deeply concerned that we also care about the truth. Why? Because this is about a whole lot more than lettuce.

We all have hunks of lettuce stuck in our spiritual teeth, in our behavior. We say something because we have concern for the well-being of the other person. After all, if nothing is said, the person with lettuce will be humiliated later, when they discover that you knew all along about this but didn’t say anything.

Why is it so hard to speak up? The reality today is that we place great value on mind-your-own business. If the other person has lettuce in his or her spiritual or public life, we’re taught to look away, to ignore it and that person will sooner or later pay the consequences. So that’s why we have the warning in the first reading: if you see something wrong, and say nothing about it, you are just as much in the wrong as the offender.

So Jesus encourages us to start small. Most of the time, a private conversation will bring about the necessary change. If it doesn’t, be patient. Try again. Pray for that person. Sometimes solving big personal problems in other individuals takes time. You might get yelled at a few times, or have the person not listen to you right away, but it’s important to be patient with the other person. It also takes a heavy dose of charity. In pastoral counseling we were taught that you can only challenge someone to the degree to which you have supported them.

May we have the courage, the patience, the understanding, and the wisdom, to always speak the truth in our world, but to do so with love, just as Christ has called each of us to do.

Much love many prayers!

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