Thursday, 19 March 2020
I honesty cannot think of anything that is more needed right now than gentleness, and a gentleness that extends to every single social interaction and area of society.
At the shops earlier in the week, I looked in the tired eyes of a shop assistant brimming with tears (after having been shouted at for most of the day it seems) and asked her if she was alright. We are in desperate need of gentleness. We simply cannot afford to be horrible to each other right now. We cannot afford to be selfish and angry and resentful and out only for ourselves. We need to be gentle.
And the challenge of Paul's words is that this gentleness should be evident to all and, I would suggest, in the way we talk about all. This is difficult. On my shopping trip earlier in the week, I encountered two very different reactions to our situation: the first a couple of terrified shoppers wearing face masks in an attempt to protect themselves; the second, a group of shoppers mocking them relentlessly even as they stock-piled their own items of food.
There was very little gentleness on display.
It is so easy to start taking chunks out of each other - to see someone'e else's behaviour and start judging and criticising. To blame Boris Johnson, to blame those stock-piling, to blame schools. I have done much of that this week - out of my own fear, I have tried to find explanations for what is going on, and identify who is most to blame for the situation. But in another letter, Paul says this, "The entire law is fulfilled by the command: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other." (Galatians 5:15)
We need to be gentle.
Perhaps we struggle with gentleness because we think of it as a kind of weakness. We're happy to be gentle with children (and puppies) but we prefer sarcasm to kindness. Showing compassion and sympathy might end up putting us in a worse position. We don't want to be labelled as a mug.
But Jesus is gentle. In fact, it is one of the very few words that he uses to describe himself: "Take my yoke upon you," he says, "for I am gentle and humble in heart." (Matthew 11:29) Jesus stops for the one. He locks eyes with the frightened. He takes time over those that the rest of society has written off. And - if we claim to be following him - then we need to behave like him. And that means guarding our words and our actions, monitoring what we put on Facebook and thinking about the impact it will have on others, loving our neighbours as ourselves.
But, and this is the truly beautiful part, we do it knowing that Jesus' gentleness is for us too. In amongst all of the emotions that we are experiencing right now, Jesus promises that he is gentle. That he is tender. We are to come to him in our weariness and anxiety and exchange what we are carrying for his easy yoke. (Matthew 11:30)
In our fragility and fear, he will be gentle. That is who he is:
"Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out." (Isaiah 42:1-3)
Let us be like Jesus today. Let us remember one another's bruises and brokenness, and be gentle.