An ancient prayer refers to Jesus “whose tender love towards [humankind] sent [him] to suffer death upon the cross ... that we may follow the example of his patience and humility ...”
I typed “tender” into an online thesaurus. It produced, “loving, caring, gentle”.
I am privileged to lead silent retreats. I almost always begin with Jesus’ words as reported in St Matthew’s Gospel account: “Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy, and I will give you rest.” In the Holy Bible, those divine words are followed by, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle ... For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”(Matthew 11.28-30).
I enjoy the imperative metaphor of being “yoked” to Jesus Christ. A Bible scholar says that Jesus was probably referring to a double yoke, the kind that has two oxen ploughing together. When Christians are truly yoked to Jesus, the burden of their priestly, pastoral and preaching work becomes lighter because the task is shared.
This is what faith in our threefold God is meant to be like. Jesus commands his followers to be yoked to him. He promises to be with them in every situation, whatever the circumstances. The reality of his unlimited strength and power works gently alongside and within his followers. He makes life “easier” whatever the circumstances. Saint Paul defended his own Christian service by saying to his readers, “I appeal to you, by the... gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10.1).
The Oxford Dictionary defines gentleness: “a gentle person is mild in temperament or behaviour, kind, tender, sensitive; noble, courteous and chivalrous; moderate in action, effect or degree; not harsh or severe.”
Jesus has that kind of noble gentility. He possesses the gentleness that only a person with great power is able to exercise. It allowed him to “humble himself and [become] obedient to the point of death on a cross” (Philippians 2.8).
Authentic Christians know that they are called to reveal similar majestic gentleness, even if they die doing it. That is why, in the Greek language of the New Testament, gentleness is also connected with empathy and compassion. My column includes a pictorial representation of Jesus inviting a teenager to find rest from his troubles. Today’s young people are severely under attack by the world’s destructive elements. There is nothing new about this. My own childhood included, from seven years of age, evacuation, sexual abuse, the death of both parents, an orphanage, living with a variety of relatives who did not really want me, 16 schools, plus ten years army service.
I am now among the happiest people on earth. The Church picked up a damaged boy to begin the continuing process of loving him better. I have been privileged to meet, and learn from, truly compassionate and gentle Christians. They enabled me to discover true peace of mind.
The contrast between the world’s ideas about power and authority is poles apart from authentic Christian teaching and practice. The tragedy is that the Church itself, like much of today’s world, too often lacks compassion. The all too human Church is often dominating and cruel.
The negative elements of the Church’s flawed life, provide ample ammunition for today’s so-called religious or atheistic extremists. It is not surprising that these actively ignore, reject, despise and attempt to destroy what they believe to be the disgusting falsity of Christianity.
However, Christ’s awesome sacrificial love and gentleness will finally overcome the world’s mindless antagonism.