The Father Revealed in the Son
At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
New International Version (NIV)
For many people, especially men, the words gentle and gentleness conjure up images of a weak, whimpish, and unassertive person. Properly understood, however, gentleness is a very attractive Christian virtue. In classical Greek the word was praus. It could refer to mild things, such as a mellifluous voice; to taming animals, such as horses whose boisterous energies are controlled by bridle and bit; or to pleasant and agreeable men and women, such as those who never deliberately cause unnecessary pain. Aristotle though of gentleness as strength under control, the mid-point between extreme anger and apathetic indifference. In the New Testament, gentleness began to acquire added nuances of meaning. On the one hand, it was the first cousin of poverty of spirit i.e. a sense of utter dependence on God, and on the other, it was also the first cousin of humility i.e. an honest acknowledgement that ultimately, all of one’s gifts and graces come from God.
It is significant that Jesus said of himself that he was “gentle and humble of heart” Mt 11:29. He fulfilled the following prophecy in Mt 12:18-20: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, …. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” In his Beatitudes Jesus declared: “Blessed are the gentle” i.e. those who are considerate, unassuming, and on good terms with God and their fellow human beings, “for they shall inherit the earth” Mt 5:5. The evangelists tell us that when Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph on Palm Sunday scripture was fulfilled: “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The apostle to the Gentiles referred to gentleness as a fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:23. He was so impressed by it that, on one occasion, he wrote: “This is Paul, himself, appealing to you by the gentleness and patience of Christ” 2 Cor 10:1.
St Vincent de Paul believed that compassion and gentleness are inseparable. Compassion as empathy for someone who is suffering, needs to be expressed in a gentle and sensitive way that takes account of his or her feelings and needs. St Francis de Sales (1567-1622) was renowned for his gentleness. St Jane de Chantal, his friend and confidant said of him: “He looked gentle and meek, there was gentleness in his eyes and voice and movements, and he passed it on to the hearts of others. Gentleness he used to say was the true spirit of the Christian. He once told me that he had made this holy virtue his special aim for three years.”
If we desire to be gentle in our dealings with others, we must first learn to be gentle with ourselves. St Francis de Sales wrote: “We must not fret over our imperfections….Bitterness against ourselves springs from no other source than self-love, which is disturbed and upset at seeing it’s imperfections.” He added: “We must not fret over our own imperfections. Although reason requires that we must be displeased and sorry when we commit a fault, we must refrain from bitter, gloomy, spiteful, and emotional displeasure. Many people are at fault in this way. When overcome by anger they become angry at being angry, disturbed at being disturbed, and vexed at being vexed.” Likewise we need to be moderate and lenient when correcting others. As Francis wisely observed: “A spoonful of honey is better than a barrel of vinegar.” Surely, a gentle and compassionate disposition reveals something of the heart of Christ.