There’s one word that those who know me best would NEVER use to describe me: Gentle! I don’t know if it’s my “creative” use of language or just my deep suspicion of spineless mediocrity, but I am rarely what you might call “gentle.” I tend toward the “over-the-top” and brash black and white mindset of a hard nosed conservative, former police officer, by-the-book rule keeper. So, do you still love me?
And yet, here’s this old hard nosed rule keeper, suspicious of mere sentiment, crying his eyes out over a Hallmark commercial! What’s that about?
I think, regardless where your personality may fall, all of us appreciate the notion of gentleness; that trait that makes you approachable, safe, and able to receive another with peace. And, even when I’m at my most blustery, I always try to remember to leave a place in my heart for the fact that others are more important than my opinions or personality. And, maybe, just maybe, I could always make room for those who see things differently.
Just look at our Lesson today in Galatians 5:22-26; 6:1-2:
Brethren, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
We’ve dealt with this passage before, but there is another insight St. Paul reveals to us that just might help us avoid the syrupy sentimentality that leads to compromising truth AND the equally weak and faulty attitude that “this is the way it is and if you don’t like it, tough!” Both of these ends of the spectrum reduce others to mere objects and don’t reflect a gentle spirit.
St. Paul tells these Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit and illustrates the importance of having this “fruit” in our lives by saying “if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” We Christians aren’t to “shoot our wounded.” We are in the restoration business, not the judgement business. We restore someone who’s fallen. There are no discardable people!
But look at what this gentleness means and what it doesn’t mean. This gentleness means we assume the other can be restored, and that’s because we, too, are susceptible to falling as well. This is what keeps us gentle; the truth that we stumble too, that we need others to restore us at times. There’s nothing like an honest confession of my own weakness to make me more patient with others who are weak! And we don’t stop at restoration! We Christians also put our own shoulders under the weight others are carrying and help them carry their burdens as well. And it is gentleness that gives us the strength to do that hard work.
BUT we also assume there is a Standard, a Way of Life that is Best that give us the goal of restoration in the first place. We don’t buy into the modern spiritual poverty and weak belief that everybody is OK just the way they are! No, our very gentleness means we have our eyes set on a truly good and proper life that is the Life of Christ. We don’t compromise our faith just so we won’t “hurt” someone’s feelings or make them “feel” bad about their choices. No, we authentically and lovingly say what the Lord says to us all “Repent!” Your life NEEDS to be restored. You are NOT OK. You need to be healed, just like me!
Today, as we pass through an age where it seems the whole of society wants us to pretend that being loving and gentle means pretending there isn’t a wrong way of living that destroys us. That “not judging” means ignoring the destructive lifestyles of people who are their own worst enemy. This is not Christian gentleness. It’s just unloving laziness. True gentleness says we are all broken and in need of restoration by God’s grace and I’m here to help you and stand with you and make a place in my heart for you so that, together, we can abandon our brokenness and be healed by God’s grace. That’s a gentleness that is active and participatory rather than a passive and deceptively selfish delusion! So, be gentle by being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Be on time for Liturgy Sunday! Have a great weekend! By the way, prayers appreciated for Fr. Barnabas as he speaks at the Young Adult Fall Retreat at the St. Nicholas Ranch in California today!