Speaking the truth in love

Mrs Smith had an African grey parrot. But much to her dismay it never spoke. She would talk to it over and over again, day in, day out, but it spoke not a word. Ten years went by with the bird remaining silent, until one day she put a bit of apple in the cage, and in the apple there was a maggot.

The bird looked at the grub, and cried out ‘It’s a maggot!’ Mrs Smith was amazed, ‘you can speak!’ she said, ‘Of course I can speak’ said the bird, ‘but why haven’t you spoken before.’ asked Mrs Smith ‘I’ve never had to complain about the food before.’ replied the bird. 

Do you find it easy or hard to complain? Do you react instantly or do you chunter and fume silently inside.

Jesus in the gospel tells us that we must air our grievances with one another. We must face up to problems between us and deal with them, in order to preserve community.

If someone sins against us and we do not tell them we have been offended then we are not being truthful. We are withholding the truth. There may be a sense of coldness or distance between the two parties.The truth should be sacred to Christians. It is part of the nature of Christ, it is how he described himself, ‘the way, the truth and the life.’  Ezekiel states an obligation to point out the sins of others, to give the sinner the opportunity for amendment and repentance. However we must be mindful of our own faults before we try to correct those of another.

St Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians, says that if we speak the truth in love, we will become more like Christ. To speak the truth in love, is not easy, it means taking a risk, of a negative reaction, it may even seem to make matters worse. But holding back, not saying what you really feel, can also be damaging, and put an obstacle between us.

In monasteries there is often considerable tension between people who have to live with others so closely for life. At one monastery a therapist was brought in to help the monks to deal with each other more openly. At the first session she hoped that they would express what they really felt about each other. One monk walked across the room and slapped another across the face, ‘I’ve been wanting to do that for years,’ he said. How much better it would have been if those monks had had the courage to speak the truth to each other in love, without letting simmering resentment boil over.

In his monastic rule, St Benedict was very critical of ‘murmuratio’ which can be translated as murmuring or grumbling, the background complaining that the offender does not hear.  It is easy to slip into grumbling about this or that not being right, but not actually doing anything about it; complaining to other people but not to the person concerned. Muttering and moaning has a negative effect on us and the community around us.  

This is what Jesus tries to address, but he realizes that there are some problems which are too difficult to solve alone, and recommends the taking of witnesses. The presence of others may give moral support to the person pointing out the offence but also reflect what was actually said, as words in such tense situations can be misconstrued.

Jesus says where two or three are gathered in his name, he will be with them. We do not point out a fault just to be  critical, but because we want to find a solution to the problem. This is speaking the truth in love.  So whenever we face up to a problem with someone we must go first to the Lord, to pray for a good result. We have to focus on the solution and not be bogged down in the problem.

Peace and harmony are vital to any community, be it church, work or family.  There is a time to speak and a time to be silent, prayer helps us discern when that time is. Reacting in the heat of the moment is usually unwise as we may say things that we may regret which can never be taken back.

In all things, St Paul says we must love our neighbour as ourselves. We must treat others with the same respect with which we would hope that they would treat us. So in any situation where we are unsure about what to do, we might reverse the situation, and think about what we would consider reasonable, had we caused offence.  

As St Paul says, ‘we owe each other a debt of mutual love.’