There is one characteristic of Christ-likeness that is shared by both the beatitudes and the fruit of the Spirit. This is gentleness and it is my contention that it is central to our teaching.
In the Greek, “gentleness” the noun is praotes and the adjective “gentle” is praus. The authorised version in English translates these without exception as meekness and meek but more modern translations, drawing on contemporary usage, tend to translate them as gentleness and gentle, but occasionally, in certain contexts, meekness and meek.
Barclay points out that the words were used to refer to a wild animal such as a horse that has been tamed. So they do not refer to an absence of strength but a presence of self-control, specifically not to hurt. Jesus was called praus.
This blog has often been interested in the characteristics of the relationship between teachers and students in theological education. Gentleness/meekness seems to be a central element in that; in what way?
We can, with care, say that the English word meekness is often used with reference to an internal disposition of the heart, whereas gentleness is often used of a way of interacting with others. This is akin to humility, a quietness of soul that does not push itself forward or consider itself too highly. It is based on knowingly being a recipient of grace. Such a disposition of meekness opens the door for relationships with all. It issues then in gentle dealings. It does not strive, cause difficulty or hurt others. It is in the business of calculating carefully what our words and actions will do to others. It is open to learn from all, including students. It will ask “What right do we have to any other attitude?”
We tend to under-estimate the vulnerability of our students (and sometimes of our fellow staff). They need to know that they will be protected by us; that we will, like Christ, not break the bruised reed, even if they have done the bruising themselves. Sometimes, especially in certain cultures, we need to preserve the sense of self-worth and “face” of the students in class. Student open-ness within the teaching process only comes if we are trusted to be gentle if they are wrong, say silly things, or mess up. Gentleness creates safety which promotes learning.
Gentleness is never without limits. If it means that we do not hurt or create difficulties for another person, we have to add “unless absolutely necessary”. Gentleness, for instance, cannot extend to over-generous marking, which is a form of bearing false witness. Although gentleness will always be as merciful as possible, it also has to maintain discipline and do what is just. In Jesus’ case, it did not stop him becoming angry occasionally or speaking in frustration to his disciples.
One of our tasks is to challenge students to think hard thoughts that are sometimes painful, that damage pre-conceptions. This is all part of theological education, especially when we receive students from churches that are simplistic and shallow in their thinking and theology. At such points, our duty to challenge has to be accompanied with pastoral gentleness, caring for and preserving their faith, their dedication to Christ and respect for scripture, while helping them to think deeply. You betray your trust if you simply enjoy disturbing students without also gently caring for them.
Jesus once said (Matt. 11.29) “learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls”
Would it not be wonderful that those who learn from us would find rest for their souls because of our gentleness?