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Both of my daughters are really different. But, to their credit, I really do like them as persons. I find their differences endearing and fascinating. One daughter is most at home on stage. She really shines when she’s performing or dancing. She’s very good at it. My youngest is one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever known. She commands a room when she walks in but her main ability is in her immediate seeking out of the castaways and the ignored. She’s drawn to these folks and she finds their gifts and abilities and helps them connect and excel. She really is an amazing person. My girls are very different but so very much wonderful people.

But, they both share my tendency for “plain” speaking. You usually don’t have to wonder what they think. They will tell you. I wonder where they get this? 😉

And this characteristic is something that has gotten them in some hot water. I know their pain. It’s happened to me as well. It turns out many people don’t really like plain talk. They would prefer I use soothing words or affirming language so as to not upset others. And, to be sure, it is absolutely essential to be appropriate and kind when we speak. But that should never be used as a way to avoid uncomfortable truths. The truth is the best medicine, but it is often not very pleasant. Part of being a mature person is the ability to hear uncomfortable truths and humbly embrace this wisdom and learn how to truly practice repentance. More and more, I see this as the main spiritual discipline I must attend to and practice.

Look at our Gospel Lesson in Matthew 21:28-32:

The Lord said this parable, “A man had two sons; and he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went. And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the harlots believed him and even when you saw it, you did not afterward repent and believe him.”

Honest communication is, admittedly, disconcerting at times. It’s hard to hear straight talk sometimes. We humans really want to avoid conflict and unpleasantness. But sometimes the only way to get us off neutral is to talk straight and plain and use the power of that jarring moment to rouse us from our anesthetized stupor! And, as harsh as it may sound, this is truly a loving action towards these hearers. It isn’t loving to leave someone in their spiritual illness just to spare their feelings. That is, in fact, the very opposite of love. It’s actually cowardice. And love is NEVER cowardly.

And that is what Jesus does today in our Gospel Lesson. The Lord uses plain talk and a stark comparison to wake up His hearers to the reality laid before them. It turns out those who think of themselves as “good” people have a harder time repenting than those who know they aren’t good people!

The Lord’s hearers condemn themselves with their answer to His question. They admit that the second son who promised to go and work and didn’t was disobedient to the call of the Father, while the first son who rebelled but repented and went to the fields was really the faithful son. Clearly, Jesus was confronting those who do all the easy stuff of outward piety while their hearts reject the real power of the Faith to change them from the inside out!

Today, which “son” are you? Do you work at developing humility and true honesty about your own faithfulness that avoids the twin traps of self-justification and self-loathing? Turns out both of those traps keep you as a prisoner to a dishonest and inaccurate assessment of your love for God. Perhaps it’s time to embrace the wise and timeless insight of the Faith that calls us to regular confession and a healthy distrust of our ability to accurately “see” ourselves by ourselves. No wonder the wisdom of the faith instructs me to embrace a sense of community and communion that is more than mere lip service, but an actual loving community committed to serving one another in spiritual growth. It’s time to embrace the hard truth that your spiritual life will benefit more from a humble confession than a perpetual delusion of “I’m not so bad.” Your ego will be healthier for it and so will your soul! In fact, it will make you Orthodox on Purpose!

P.S. Dear Lord, You tell me the truth because You love me. You are gentle and kind but You are also Light and Fire! Your motivation for Your loving correction of me is my salvation and healing. And when I avoid Your plain wisdom, I condemn myself to the slavery of my passions. You want me to be free like You are free. You desire my spiritual health so that I can forever grow to be like You. And this is Your desire for all of humanity. Please help me, Lord, to avoid the twin mistakes of being too harsh and too lenient. Help me to strike that loving motivation like You in embracing the spiritual medicine that is sometimes bitter for my salvation. Amen

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