Have you ever heard the phrase “two-by-four person?” It refers to someone who finds it very difficult to grasp the meaning of a gentle suggestion or order. As a result, the person trying to communicate in a kind manner must simply take the old two-by-four out and knock the person over the head with the message in order to make certain they fully get it. Most parents and managers have probably run into some of these people. It can feel terrible to communicate so forcefully, but nevertheless necessary.

This certainly sounds like the point to which Jesus had gotten with the scribes and Pharisees by the time of the scene in today’s gospel. It does seem very harsh, but the stakes are high and it is time to speak with complete truth and honesty. It is time for “tough love.”

It is very appropriate we hear this gospel on the feast of St. Monica who shed many a tear over the life Augustine, her son, led for many years. I can imagine she had many very tough conversations with him about his poor choices.

Even when the old “two-by-four” has to be used, ask for the grace to swing it with love and compassion.

—David McNulty works for the Midwest Jesuits. Dave and his wife Judy are grandparents of six.