Scriptures for Aug. 23 at First Mennonite Gal 5:22, 1 Sam. 16:14-23, Matt.5:5, Ps. 10: 7-18, John 10:1-21.
This summer our congregation is doing a series on the fruit of the Spirit. On Sunday the fruit theme is gentleness.
Do we know what gentleness is? I wrote up a list of synonyms to see what came to mind for me;
A soft breeze.
A quiet voice.
A non-forceful approach.
What surprises me is that my list is short. It also feels rather weak and wimpy. I usually have no trouble at all thinking up much longer and more varied lists when I do this exercise. Gentleness is a bit hard to define, so I'll try the exercise again to see if I can come up with what gentleness is not.
Grabby, a hard handshake.
It seems easier to think of what gentleness is not, than to come up with a good description of what it is. The scripture passages for today refer to meekness. I have never thought of gentleness as meekness, and yet the words seem to go together or are interchangeable in the Bible. To me, meekness equates with a hesitation to speak up, and I'm not sure that gentleness has to have that kind of "hang back" quality. In fact, sometimes gentleness means courage, speaking up, and taking risks. Maybe meekness does too. So why do we easily think of gentleness, or meekness, as something that is weak, tame, or deficient in courage? Can a gentle person ever be a successful leader, a politician, a business person? Does the more gentle person always get taken advantage of?
The Bible describes gentleness as "power under control." (I am indebted to an article from www.theologyofwork.org/blessed are the meek, for some of these thoughts. It's a good one to google!) The article says that gentleness is power under control; 1) It is a refusal to inflate our own self-estimation. 2) It is reticence to assert ourselves for ourselves.
In Numbers 12:3, Moses is described as the most humble (meek in some translations) man on the face of the earth-yet he was definitely not a wall-flower personality! I never would have included Moses in my top ten list of gentle people in the Bible! Jesus, in Matt. 11:29, is described as gentle and humble in heart-yet he is also the one who, in Matt. 21:12, clears out the temple, overturns tables, and calls the merchants "thieves." He was never hesitant to speak up, to condemn injustice,...or to let the children come to him!
In today's scripture from John, Jesus is the good shepherd who doesn't hide from the sheep like a thief, but enters through the main gate. The sheep recognize him and follow him. He is willing to risk everything, even his life, to protect the sheep. And here is a verse I found particularly interesting, "No one takes it (life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord, I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again." (v.18)
This is power under control. Gentleness here is a choice. It is a choice made for the good of those who need to be cared for. There is nothing weak, or deficient in courage about this kind of gentleness. Gentleness is using our power to care for others. It is rescuing those who cannot do it for themselves. It is a choice to be calm instead of angry, quiet instead of loud, giving instead of pushy, co-operative instead of combative. Above all, it is acting in the best interests of others.
So I can answer my earlier question. A gentle person can be a leader, a politician, a business person. In fact, we need these powerful people to be gentle, to be in control of their power for the good of others. Sometimes it might mean being loud and forceful like Jesus was in the temple-because it was for the good of people. The temple was restored to it's purpose, and the poor who were coming to worship were not to be taken advantage of! Sometimes gentleness means biting back hard words, or refusing to do negative ad campaigns, or not sacrificing workers to the idea of maximizing profits. I wish we could celebrate our leaders who lead like this!
Of course we know that often the gentle and principled leaders may not survive when the more cutthroat, dishonest, and self-driven leaders are their competition. But who would you rather have as your boss? Which of these types of leaders would have the respect and love of their workers, citizens, and even their families? (When Jesus says the 'meek will inherit the earth' I think this is what he is talking about. He is talking about the building of real, healthy communities where caring and gentleness set the tone for economies and politics instead of the brutal and selfish strategies of those who lead for glory and power for themselves.)
Gentleness is not weakness. It is a different kind of strength that is maybe hard to understand, takes practice to implement, and a lifetime to understand how to choose it. Sometimes gentleness is decisive action, like Jesus in the temple, or the good shepherd dying for the sheep. Sometimes gentleness is a soft breeze, a warm hand, and a quiet word of encouragement. These things are power too, and build up the strength and gentleness capacity of the community.
Let's strive to be gentle with each other, to choose to use the power we have, whether it is our money, our words, or our time, to build up our families and communities in the style of the good shepherd. The gentleness Jesus showed in life and death is courageous and full of love for others. That's a challenging definition of gentleness. Maybe now I can go back and expand my list of what gentleness is.