Broken Tooth for Broken Tooth - Word&Way

Broken Tooth for Broken Tooth

I recently lost a tooth. And the tooth fairy didn’t even bother to give me a quarter — or whatever the going rate is these days. My son lost his first tooth last year and told us about the tooth fairy he learned about at preschool (thanks, kid with an older sibling). I begrudgingly put a dollar under his pillow, but I gave him the ransom money in various coins so I could make him tithe on it (true story).

Brian KaylorBrian KaylorI refused to give my son anywhere close to the current average, which Delta Dental’s research says is now a record high of $4.66 per tooth (and $5.72 on average for the first tooth). That’s a rise from $1.78 in 2004 when they first started tracking the rate. The tooth fairy’s rate appears to be growing quite quickly, almost as if it doesn’t hurt her pocket to hand out higher amounts. All told, about $290 million was paid out last year for dirty little teeth unhygienically placed under pillows (not counting money lost from washing hands and sheets). Kind of reminds me of that proverb about a fool and his money.

To be fair to the tooth fairy, I didn’t put my recent tooth under my pillow (and I no longer live with my parents). Before my tooth can be repaired, the dentist had to first saw and yank out the remaining parts after I accidentally broke it. The dentist then probably disposed of it like one should do with an old, bloody tooth. It was an unpleasant hour, followed by a several days of being extra careful not to bump the open area and eating lots of soft foods like ice cream (okay, so that part didn’t change).

After removing my tooth, the dentist put in some bone grafts that need a couple of months to heal before I can get an implant tooth. I could have chosen a quicker process, but then my mouth wouldn’t end up as nice and I might have found myself back in the dental chair someday with a new problem. While I’m hoping the next step won’t be as painful, the slow process of removing the broken tooth and adding bone grafts remained necessary to build a strong foundation so I can eventually have a good-looking mouth again (and my pearly whites are good looking, indeed).

As I ate my cottage cheese and carefully sipped my lukewarm coffee while recovering from the dentist attacking my mouth with a pair of pliers, I thought about Jesus’s teaching about teeth. Since I broke the tooth myself, I decided to take his advice and not demand a “tooth for a tooth” from the perpetrator! That old Mosaic teaching was actually an improvement over the earlier cultural “ethic” of killing someone if they broke your tooth. Even though better, the tooth-for-a-tooth philosophy still seems barbaric, especially considering they didn’t have anesthesia for the tooth removals! I imagine it being a bit like the scene in the movie “Castaway” when Tom Hanks knocked out his own tooth with an ice skate and then passed out. Ouch!

Into that context, Jesus arrived with a radical message: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). That’s not an easy teaching, especially when your mouth or eye (or worse) is bleeding and pulsing with pain. But that attitude stops a spiraling cycle of violence that — as we’ve often seen in feuds and wars — can destroy the lives of many. A Canadian politician arguing in his nation’s Parliament against the death penalty in 1914 put it this way: “If in this present age we were to go back to the old time of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’ there would be very few honorable gentlemen in this House who would not, metaphorically speaking, be blind and toothless.”

Looking around at our society, Jesus’s teaching is still a radical idea. We want to hit back, lash out, get “even.” We elect leaders who promise to kill the “evildoers” (and a bunch of innocent civilians nearby). We cheer as movie heroes and sports figures pummel the “other” guy. We rage back at the bad driver making a special hand signal. We defend our president — who actually said last year that his favorite Bible verse was the old “eye-for-an-eye” line that Jesus explicitly rejected — when he threatens a nuclear holocaust against other nations.

In Proverbs 25, wise old Solomon (who probably painfully lost some teeth because of all that rich royal food), warned us to be careful who we follow: “Like a broken tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in a time of trouble.” If Christians more fully live out the teachings of Jesus, we can make our world less blind and less toothless. Perhaps I’m being impractical and crazy to suggest we take the words of Jesus literally (or, perhaps I’m just loopy from the drugs the dentist gave me). But it seems the only way to build a strong foundation for our society is to first saw and yank out the old teachings of hate, anger and revenge.