Have you ever gone to the dentist and gotten disclosing tablets? They’re little pink things, about the size of a pill. You chew them and then swish them around in your mouth and the places where you have plaque on your teeth turn red. It’s a neat idea, because we don’t always realize that when we brush our teeth, we forget some parts. I’m not sure any of us enjoys flossing our teeth, but when we see those red stripes between our teeth, we realize that maybe we’ll have to start flossing more than once a month. So the disclosing tablets show us how to do some things better (like brushing in different places), and they also give us incentive to do things that maybe we haven’t been doing (like flossing).
I’m sure the dental hygienists especially enjoy using the disclosing tablets for people who aren’t entirely honest when they come to the dentist’s office. You know – the people who state categorically that they brush and floss every day, but when they chew on the tablets, their bright red teeth tell a very different story. The dental hygienist doesn’t give these people disclosing tablets so the patients can fine-tune their brushing and flossing technique. Instead, when they hold up the mirror in front of the patient, they’re letting the patient know that they are well-aware that the patient hasn’t been truthful.
Now whether we’re good or bad at brushing and flossing, and whether we’re honest or dishonest with the dental hygienist, the dental hygienist is using the disclosing tablets to get us to change something we’re doing – to do something different – something new. We get a similar message in the readings today and the readings are very appropriate as we approach the season of Lent that we begin this Wednesday.
In the first reading, God is talking to his chosen people, the Israelites. They were in captivity in Babylon. God made passing reference to the fact that he had brought them out of Egypt when they were held captive there many years earlier. That event, the great Exodus from Egypt, was very important to the Israelites and they remembered it often. But now God told them to forget about those wonderful things, because he was going to do something even better: “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth.” God was telling his people that his generosity is limitless. Yes, he delivered them from Egypt, but he would deliver them again. And he said that he would do this even though the Israelites had turned away from him.
It was like God had his own disclosing tablets. He knew that they had sinned – they couldn’t hide it. But unlike the dental hygienist who actually seems to enjoy holding that mirror in front of us to show us where we’ve failed, God said that HE was burdened with their sins, and then he blotted them out – he wiped away their sins.
In the Gospel we hear about Jesus doing something new. We are still early in Mark’s Gospel, and to this point, Jesus had been healing many people who had a whole host of physical and mental problems. We’ve heard over the past couple of weeks that Jesus cast out demons, he cured Peter’s mother-in-law, and we heard that wherever he went, there were crowds of people who were sick, and who came to him for healing.
The story we heard today of the man who was paralyzed always brings a smile to my face. Imagine the dedication of his friends, hauling him up on the roof and cutting a hole so Jesus could heal him. It sounds a bit like an Indiana Jones movie. But it gives you a sense of how many people came to be healed by Jesus. This man’s friends couldn’t even carry him through the door.
But Jesus did something different with this man. Jesus obviously saw the man’s physical problem, but he could see that the man needed spiritual healing. And so he forgave the man’s sins. This was something new – and as we heard, the scribes got very angry about it: “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And then to show them that he was acting with authority when he forgave the man’s sins, Jesus also healed the man physically: “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And the people said: “We have never seen anything like this.” Jesus was truly doing something new.
In the first reading, God could see the sins of his people. In the Gospel, Jesus could see the sins of the paralyzed man. In speaking to the Israelites and in speaking to the paralyzed man, God, and Jesus, were holding up a mirror to them so that they could see where there problems were – and they were also holding out forgiveness and healing.
In a couple of days we begin Lent. These next few days are very important to us. They give us an opportunity to chew on that spiritual disclosing tablet, hold up our mirrors, and find out – truly and honestly – how we’re doing. And if we’ve been like that person who claims to be brushing and flossing every day, but has a mouth full of red-coloured plaque – this is the time to resolve to do something different – something new. But we have to look in the mirror.
As I’ve been preparing for Lent – a time when I want to do new things – I’ve found myself like the patients we’ve been talking about. In some instances, I’m pretty much on the right track, but I need some fine tuning. If I listen to the Holy Spirit, I can find those areas of my life where I need a little help, and I can find the strength to change. Then there are other areas where I’ve been like the dishonest patient. I realize that there are things I should be doing differently, but I brush them off (no pun intended). And it’s only when I pay attention to my conscience – my own personal disclosing tablet – that I understand that I need to change.
Lent gives us a wonderful opportunity to look at ourselves and to try to become better Christians and better people. Not to be better than other people, but to become better than the person we are. Not to dwell on past mistakes, but to look forward to a better future.
You may want to try this. I’m assuming that you brush and floss each morning and evening. So while you’re doing that between now and this Wednesday – Ash Wednesday – think about what you would see if you rinsed your soul with a disclosing tablet. What things that you do – or don’t do – would turn your soul red? And importantly, what new thing can you do during the 40 days of Lent to get rid of those red spots. They say that it takes 21 days to form a new habit – we have 40. What a wonderful opportunity!
And if we use this opportunity, we may find that on Easter Sunday we can welcome the risen Lord with a cleaner soul and a beautiful smile.