Fruits of the Spirit: Gentleness

23 Dec

The harvest of the Spirit includes gentleness.
This is surely a greatly mis-understood idea, supported for example by the imagery of 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild'.
It is this kind of thinking that associates faith, or more precisely Christian faith, with weakness, perhaps femininity (of the genteel prescription) and general ineffectiveness. Those who want to get on with life, who deal in 'the real world', and want to be genuine about what is possible and what is pretence, know that this kind of religion is of little use to anyone.
Is this what we mean by 'gentleness'? I hope not. On the contrary, I believe it takes great strength to be gentle. Indeed, it needs divine presence and power to be gentle with the realities of life. It is the Spirit who enables and gives such gentleness.

To be gentle is to be careful, even protective, of a person or persons, in a situation. The opposite of gentleness is heavy-handedness, roughness, maybe brute strength.
To be gentle means, first, to stay one's hand from those actions which may bruise, damage, or break things open. Instead, gentleness moves with deliberate and caring intent: but it does not necessarily mean without strength or power.
I am here suggesting that there is a such a thing as determined gentleness, and gentle strength.
Jesus exercised such gentleness, it seems to me, on many occasions. It was characteristic of his response in situations where other people, often sick or powerless individuals, were being used in some debate over what God wanted or required. I think of the debate over whether it was 'lawful' to heal a person on the sabbath (Matt. 12. 9 – 14). The debaters seemed not to care about the man and his withered arm. It was all about a doctrinal argument. In that situation, I think I would have been angry and I think my response would have been fairly trenchant. I'd have knocked them around a bit with my arguments: all in the name of God, of course!
Jesus was deliberate, and definite, but also careful to place the well-being of the man in need at the centre of the situation. His gentle strength ensured that his words in the dispute did not ignore, but in fact upheld, the dignity of the man who most needed his care.
The best example is surely the dispute about 'the woman caught in adultery' (John 8. 3 – 11). Curiously, no man was  'caught' in this act!
Here, the response of Jesus was to squat down and write in the dust. I reckon he was doing the proverbial 'count to ten', or maybe a thousand!
I imagine he was furious, that this self-righteous lot could use this woman, who had very likely already suffered a great deal, as the object of a political-religious debate, just to try to trick Jesus.
He refused to play their game. But with astonishing self-control and assurance in the situation, he invites anyone present who is without sin to cast the first stone, to punish her.  That's gentle strength.
Gentleness works for good, with deliberateness and a positive, caring purpose.
It is no accident that we are here speaking of the garden of the Spirit.
Gardening is a very deliberate activity, in which one seeks to grow things, patiently to nurture them into fruitfulness and beauty: and here there is inherent gentleness. Yes, one has to dig, and sometimes cut and pull away and work very strenuously. But one must also water, gently, and wait for the bees and the wind  to do their amazing work to assist the coming of fruit. Here there is so much gentleness, so much delicacy, and yet so much life.
Gardening is like working with God, to nurture things to fruitfulness and beauty. God is a gardener.
So, too, the Spirit of God works with us, within us and between us, to evoke many kinds of gentle activity.
In many earlier posts, regarding the harvest of the Spirit, we have noted the ways love and joy and peacefulness involve care for others and care for ourselves. It is so difficult to be gentle with oneself! We are either too rough or too weak. We need that gentle strength, which will nurture reality, and enable us to grow into integrity. It is the Spirit who invites and evokes this gentleness. It is a delicate and lovely thing, and something which exists only in the living, and sharing.

One thought on “Fruits of the Spirit: Gentleness

  1. Frank,
    Thank you for this, especially in the Christmas season. The idea of a ‘determined gentleness’ or ‘gentle strength’ is liberating. I came across a dated book some years back with the title ‘A Spirituality of Gentleness.’ From memory, the title was more captivating than the content, but the idea has stayed with me.
    Personally, I find it really distressing that the North American Mark Driscoll’s picture of Jesus as “a pride fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed” has been so appealing, especially in the push for a more ‘masculine’ christianity. Apparently for Driscoll, the pride fighter Jesus is “a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, dapper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.”
    It seems to me that the easy use of words like ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ in relation to Jesus and the expression of worship is fraught with danger. Though I sense Driscoll may not warm to words like ‘delicate’ and ‘lovely’, words you’ve used in your final paragraph, I appreciate them deeply.

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