The Gift of Gentleness

What is meekness? Gentleness?

The opposite of gentleness is seen in both of our readings today…

First, from the book of Kings:

1. Elisha is a man of God and yet he is human… and in a moment of frustration and embarrassment, he lashes out at a group of young boys.

2. Is that part of the scene something familiar to you? Can you remember the grumpy old man who lived down the block from you and would shout curses from the windows? Do you know of rude young people who jeer the elderly, the disabled, or anyone different from them?

3. Now, perhaps letting a slip of the tongue speak out a curse against the boys is one thing… but our young prophet Elisha doesn’t quite have the power of God firmly in his grasp yet. Aristotle once said that a person who displayed gentleness would be angry only “on the right grounds, and against the right persons, and in the right manner, and at the right moment, and for the right length of time.”

4. This is NOT what Elisha did. He may have been angry at their teasing of him, but they were only children, and rather than an eye for an eye – his curse called out bears from the woods that killed those children on the spot. We can look at this and firmly say it was ANYTHING but gentle.

Secondly, we see the opposite of gentleness in our gospel reading today from Luke.

1. Jesus sends forth the disciples at the beginning of our chapter with guidance as to what to do if people are rude and inhospitable to you: Shake the dust off your feet, turn and walk away.

2. yet by the end of the chapter… the disciples have already forgotten his example. When a town will not welcome them, James and John run back and ask Jesus if they can call fire down from heaven to destroy them…

3. Again – we have rash, arrogant, and excessive behavior… which Jesus quietly rebukes and they move on.

So, what is gentleness?

The Full Life Study Bible: restraint coupled with strength and courage.

Aristotle: halfway between excessive anger and indifference.

Paul demonstrated the kind of restraint Nathan had when he confronted David. As he writes to the Corinthians he asks them: “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit.” (1 Cor 4:21). He could be angry. He could be harsh. As a teacher, he probably knew something about discipline… but he wanted them to repent and transform their lives not out of fear… but out of the love and gentleness that was shown to them.

In John Wesley’s writing, we see the spirit of gentleness in his command to “do no harm.”

As our former Bishop Reuben Job has reflected upon that command, he writes: “I have found that when this first simple rule was remembered, it often saved me from uttering a wrong word or considering a wrong response.”

He adds, “I have also found that this simple step, when practiced, can provide a safe place to stand while the hard and faithful work of discernment is done.”

Maybe that is the key. Responding in gentleness allows us to take a step back and to determine proper response. And I think that if we are faithful to the scriptures we will find that gentleness should be the core of OUR response to wrong in the world…

Think of our gospel reading…

The brothers recall how the power of God was unleashed on people and communities unwilling to repent and they believe they are justified in doing the same.

But “Vengeance is Mine.” Says the Lord.

These words come from Romans 12:

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

You will heap burning coals on his head… that sounds an awful lot to our modern ears like we should send people to hell.  But a colleague shared with me that this injunction is actually similiar to the first too – to feed and give drink to our enemies.

You see, in ancient cultures, fire was everything.  Without a fire you had no warmth, nothing to cook over, no protection.  A fire meant life in your home.  And if your coals went out – your family faced death. 

Sometimes if someone was nearby, you could take a container and they would fill it with some of the coals out of their own fire.

This passage says – if your enemy is hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; if the fire in their home has gone out… if the light of hope has gone out… if the fires of love had gone out in their heart… HEAP burning coals on their head.  Overcome evil with good.  Love them.  Be gentle to them.  And by doing this – you will light a fire in their heart.

And in our gospel reading, when Jesus rebukes the disciples, Jesus he is not only giving us an indication to how we should respond to injustice – with gentleness… but also how God-in-flesh responds:

“Jesus’ awareness of His power enabled Him to be gentle to those in need. The broken reed He would not crush but would fully restore. The flickering wick of a lamp He would not put out but would cause it to burn brightly again.” (Stanley Horton)

That is not to say that there will not come a time when there will be judgment. God will do what he has promised and will make all things right. But that judgment is not for us to make.  Our job is to point to the truth and to love with generous hearts.

But as we look at our fellow brothers and sisters, we must remember that the gentleness of Christ died for us while we were yet sinners…

The gentleness of Christ is his power… Again from Horton: “ He gently takes the sinner and makes him whole.”

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