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Speaking the Truth in Love

Joy of Chewing

I have taken seriously the apostle Paul’s advice to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Often, with good intentions, I have run with that advice and tried to share the truth with others. But more times than not the result has been disappointment, disagreement, and misunderstanding. Have you ever experienced this? As I pondered why I have encountered this negative outcome I asked myself what words of wisdom my Blessed Mother might have for me, Immediately, loud and clear, I heard her words to the servants at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). But that was not all.

As I journeyed through the Gospels with my hand in hers, I remembered what is said about her in Luke’s Gospel at the end of the infancy narrative: “His mother kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51). That helped me begin to understand why my impulsive efforts did not bear good fruit: I need first to observe / study / ponder through the eyes of Mary and I need to understand how Jesus spoke the truth in love before I try to imitate His action. I need to discover, and sometimes rediscover, the joy of chewing the Word of God rather than simply swallowing it. So how did Jesus speak the truth in love?

Tinge of Frustration

An early example of Jesus speaking the truth in love is found in Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man. In response to the young man’s question about what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus points to those commandments that call us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Of these commandments, the young man says, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth” (Mark 10:20).

Jesus’ starting point in this discussion is what the young man does well–those actions, ideas and thought patterns which in the young man are commendable and praiseworthy. But the most telling observation is what follows. Marks account goes on to tell us that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him,” (Mark 10:21). Here is revealed Jesus’ starting point: love. Jesus begins with love for the one to whom He will speak a hard truth.

When discussing matters of faith with another person, if my effort in sharing the Good news of the Gospel seems fruitless, I must admit I feel frustration. Yet in this story, Jesus, who knows exactly how the young man is going to respond to His invitation, looks at him and loves him rather than experiencing the slightest irritation. Jesus knows, at that moment, that the young man is going to feel sadness and walk away. But perhaps the Lord is filled with hope that later the young man may yield to the grace offered in his encounter with Jesus.

Do we do what Jesus did? Do we begin with love when we have truth to share?

You Are the Man

Another helpful lesson about how to speak the truth in love comes from the Old Testament in the passage where Nathan, the prophet, confronts King David about his serious sins of adultery and murder (2 Samuel 12). The key question in this encounter is why Nathan begins by telling David a parable about a rich man who acts unjustly toward a poor man? Why not come straight to the point and tell David he has committed a grave injustice against another human being?

As David listens to Nathan’s fictional story, we learn that he grows terribly angry with a man who he believed had behaved so unjustly toward his neighbor (2 Samuel 12:5), Nathan does not begin by confronting David with his mess, but by evoking the sense of justice that lay deep within his heart. If David were not a just man, he would not have expressed intense anger toward the rich man of the parable, demanding to know his name. When Nathan spoke those famous words “You are the man,” David responded with deep repentance, which later the Psalmist expressed so beautifully in Psalm 51. So, if any of us are ever called upon to discuss with someone their moral choices we would do well to follow Nathan’s example and begin by evoking the good in the individual, and resist the temptation to be in a hurry to expose their mess?

The End Zone

A second Gospel example that shows how Jesus spoke the truth in love is found in the encounter between Jesus and Peter following the Resurrection (John 21:15-18). On the lakeshore, after He has fed the disciples breakfast, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” As we know, Peter is wrestling with the tremendous guilt and shame of having denied his Lord three times. Where does Jesus begin this dialogue? He begins with the fact that Peter does genuinely love Him.

Father Daniel Poovannathil an acclaimed preacher from Kerala, southern India, shares these insights. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter knew this was not going to end well for Jesus. But he did follow, although at a distance, showing that he was, in a way, risking his life. His main struggle was between faithfulness and fear. Finally, when he was confronted, he succumbed to fear and denied Jesus. But Luke adds this additional detail stating, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter.”

Father Daniel explains that unlike Judas, Peter did not despair to the point that he fell out of Jesus’ line of sight. His love for Jesus as his Lord landed Peter in the ‘end zone’, despite his shameful act in a moment of weakness. So, when Jesus turned and looked, it was as if His vision cast a net that drew Peter in and held him until Jesus could tangibly minister to his soul.

When we confront people who know they have messed up, where do begin the conversation?

In conclusion, let us ask ourselves, “Do I see myself in any of the scenarios described above?” Do I begin difficult encounters in the same way as Nathan and Jesus did?

The inspiring Catholic speaker, Dr. Mark Nimo, often says, “Our story did not begin with sin, it began with love.” If Jesus is willing to approach sinners first with what is good in them, should I not do likewise?

Dear Jesus help me to speak the truth in love just as You did. Let my words build up those around me. Even if disappointment seeps in, let me see through Your eyes and trust that Your lifegiving message will enter every heart. I pray especially for those who have lost their way. May Your Spirit guide my every word and make me a source of love and healing. Amen.