Gentle Correction

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 28, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 2:4-13; Ps 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1-14

This week the Wednesday Afternoon Bible Study examined and meditated upon the passage from Philippians 4:4-9 where Paul exhorts us to Rejoice in the Lord always! Upon further musings that evening, what struck me anew, was his additional recommendation to (v.5) Let your gentleness be evident to all. Gentleness is the opposite of harsh or rough. To be gentle involves being kind, tender, calm, mellow, tranquil. The Bible Dictionary defines gentleness as sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love. How many of us can say we exhibit this kind of gentleness?

Essentially, Paul was describing a key quality of Jesus. Except for times when He became irritated with the hardheadedness and uncompassionate behavior of the Jewish religious leaders—who should have known better–Jesus was unfailingly gentle to the people He encountered.

Scripture teaches us to demonstrate this kind of gentleness:

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. As a teacher, counselor, and pastor, I have seen that when I can control myself and not get mad in response to someone who is angry with me, my calm, gentle manner has the effect of letting air out of a balloon.

Being gentle can deescalate intense feelings. I learned this from a master teacher when I was teaching high school back in 1982. She and I came upon a big, burly, mentally handicapped child who was threatening to punch a substitute (This behavior was relatively rare in the early 80’s). My friend simply and calmly said to the guy, “You must really be angry; what’s made you feel this way?” He dropped his fists, and shared with her all of his frustrations of the day, culminating in what he perceived as the sub’s disrespectful, unfair treatment of him. My friend’s gentle response to him calmed him right down.

Proverbs 25:15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

Jesus, Himself, said (Matthew 11:29) “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.” He characterized Himself as gentle. So it occurs to me that we should read the accounts of Christ in the Gospels through the lens of His gentleness.

Thinking back, I believe I always understood that Jesus was castigating the Pharisees in today’s Gospel passage (Luke 14:1-14). I believe I have misperceived Him. I thought of Him as taking a stand against them (they would have been seated around the banquet table); using a loud and disapproving tone of voice; and perhaps shaking His index finger at them. I really always believed He was letting them have it for their bad manners and their pride and self-centeredness.

But what if that were not the case? What if, instead, he had been correcting them gently? Jesus masterfully sets the stage with a Sabbath healing. Remember last week I said this was the 5th and final recorded Sabbath healing, which He did in full view of the scribes and Pharisees. The man, perhaps a plant, has dropsy. Dropsy, a fluid build-up in his legs, especially, probably resulted from circulatory troubles. They did not have Lasik in those days. Jesus had been invited to a meal at a Pharisee’s house. The man was there and Jesus saw him and had compassion on him. But before healing him, He asks the assembled diners if it is lawful to heal such a person on the Sabbath. They would have defined healing as work and would have said, resoundingly, “no.” However, by this point, they know Jesus does not agree. So, they remain silent, watchful, and condemning.

We know Jesus then heals the guy, despite their disapproval. He reminds them that they would not hesitate to rescue a child or an animal of theirs who might have fallen into a well on the Sabbath—this too is work! He is once again trying to teach them that compassion trumps their 506 rules for Sabbath-keeping. But sin can and does blind us to the truth. Additionally, even for Jesus, it is difficult to break through hard-heartedness.

But, instead of rebuking them for misunderstanding the nature of God and of His command for us to love one another, He begins a brief teaching on humility. (They were all puffed up with their knowledge of the 506 rules.) Notice, Jesus has witnessed the men invited to the dinner rush for the seats of honor. Typically, the host would be seated at the bottom of a U-shaped seating arrangement; honored guests would be seated to his left and right. Our Lord should have been offered one of those prime chairs (or couches). In fact, perhaps He watched the host have to ask a guest to move so Jesus could take the place of honor. At any rate, He then proceeds to tell them, gently, how to avoid such embarrassment in the future. If you are an honored guest, take the least prestigious seat. The host will then exclaim over the mistake and invite you to move higher. Never assume you are the one to be honored, as that’s prideful. In a shame/honor based culture like that of the Ancient (and even modern)Near East, you will be humiliated if you are asked to move.

Chuck Swindoll reported he had heard about a pastor who…”was voted the most humble pastor in America. And the congregation gave him a medal that said, ‘To the most humble pastor in America.’ Then they took it away from him on Sunday because he wore it.” Similarly, a comedian once said, “If you’re humble, you don’t write a book on how humble you are, with twelve life-sized pictures in it.”

(Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.279-280.)

But even more importantly, Jesus reiterates for them the Father’s view of human pride (v.11) For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Considering who God is, and our standing before Him, none of us should be puffed up with pride. It is up to God to exalt or honor us, either for services we rendered to Him or for attitudes we have of which He approves. Given Jesus’ gentleness, I think He was remarkably kind to them. Being harsh or angry would have just generated further hostility and defiance in them. I believe Jesus was sufficiently calm, loving, and authoritative to issue a gentle correction. But He is also telling all of them that the way they (and we) treat others impacts how God treats them (and us).

Interestingly, He then goes on to address His host, a Pharisee, regarding who he/we should invite to dine with him (and with us). He is calling the man to humble himself and serve those who cannot repay him.

In Victorian England and in 19th century, upper class America, if someone visited you, you owed them a return call. This was the custom and it could be seen as an outworking of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But Jesus is not just talking about etiquette but is actually going deeper into the meaning of humility. Social paybacks increase social cache/ego. Jesus is urging them all to change their approach to the people among whom God has placed them. They and we are not to lord it over them, but rather to serve them. Jesus is gently telling them that true righteousness comes as a result of giving freely to others—without expectation of reward. Furthermore, the reward is issued to us by God, not by humankind.

Jesus’ gentle approach to the issues of pride and humility really provide an extreme contrast to the current values of our culture. The prideful exalt themselves, today, even above the law. They are self-focused and arrogant. They take care of themselves and appear not to care about the rest of us. This is not a Biblical way to live. It does not please God. And it does not ultimately result in happiness.

Instead we want to humble ourselves before the Lord (James 4:10), because He will lift us up. Let us stand gently corrected. Let’s follow Jesus’ teaching, and also the example of Dan Crenshaw, a junior Congressman from Texas: “In 2018, the comedian Pete Davidson appeared on the ‘Weekend Update’ segment of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Davidson made a crude joke about a former Navy Seal turned Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw. Crenshaw had lost an eye in the line of duty, which became the butt of Davidson’s vulgar joke. The combination of mocking a person’s disability (especially a disability that came from serving his country in war) alongside a clear disapproval of Crenshaw’s political beliefs led to a burst of public outrage. While Davidson was making the joke, it became clear many found it in poor taste, and the vitriol aimed at the young comedian would ultimately lead him down a spiral of depression and self-loathing.

Davidson then took his anguish public, posting on the social media platform Instagram: “I really don’t want to be on this earth anymore. I’m doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don’t know how much longer I can last. All I’ve ever tried to do was help people. Just remember I told you so.”

When Crenshaw heard about Davidson’s condition, he didn’t do what many do when embroiled in a public tiff: tell the offender the public scorn served him right, or make some other cutting comment at Davidson’s expense. Instead, Crenshaw decided to extend an olive branch, befriending the comedian, and even offering words of life to a person who clearly felt lost amidst being stuck in the cross-hairs of the American public. Davidson recounts that Crenshaw reached out and comforted him: “God put you here for a reason. It’s your job to find that purpose. And you should live that way.”

Humor, it has often been said, is a coping mechanism to deal with the pain that life throws at us. But in the midst of the deep, unsettling pain of being publicly shamed, what Davidson needed was not a good joke, but forgiveness, and perhaps, even a friend who could share the good news of the Gospel with him. In some ways it is ironic that a man trained to kill and destroy his enemies could be so moved by compassion that he reached out to someone who publicly mocked him and his deeply held political beliefs. But that is the beauty of the Gospel, it enables us to look beyond our own reputation, our own pride, to care for others.”

(Stuart Strachan Jr. Source Material from Dino-Ray Ramos, “Texas Congressman-Elect Dan Crenshaw Reaches Out to SNL’s Pete Davidson After Troubling Instagram Post,” Deadline, December 18, 2018.)

That’s gentleness in action. Lord, help us to be gentle. Help us not to push or to compel, or to be arrogant in asserting our rights, but rather to be like Jesus, gentle, and always speaking the truth in love. Amen.

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams