It has often been observed that one of the few self-descriptions that Jesus gives of himself refers to his gentleness. Matthew records these well-known words in 11:28-30: ‘Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart , and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ These words contain several thoughts that could be reflected on such as the meaning of ‘heavy-laden’ or how Christ’s burden is ‘light’. For just now, we should observe that Jesus regarded the phrase in italics as a qualification for teaching his disciples. We are used to the idea that teachers should have appropriate qualifications. In the school of Jesus, the best Teacher has written on his CV that he is gentle and humble.
One of the surprising recurrences in modern life is the way individuals obtain a position without their CVs being checked. Eventually, for one reason or another, someone discovers that the person is not qualified, with the usual outcome being that the person is fired from his or her role. We can check the CV of Jesus to see if what he says about himself is accurate. One place where we can do this is the events recorded about him in the Bible, particularly in the Gospels. In these books we find many witnesses to his character, and we can only select a few.
The first witness is Peter. He is a very important witness because he can refer to many incidents in which he observed the gentleness of Jesus. For now, he can remind us of the incident when he had been fishing all night and caught nothing (Luke 5:1-11). He felt a bit frustrated, perhaps annoyed at his failure. Then along came Jesus and used Peter's boat in order to preach from it to the crowd. After the sermon, he proceeded to instruct Peter, the experienced fisherman, about the best place to fish. Peter was not very convinced about this suggestion, but he discovered that Jesus knew best and many fish were caught. This caused Peter to run to Jesus and say, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ Very gently, Jesus said to him, ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’
The second witness is the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). She had been frogmarched into the presence of Jesus by the religious leaders who demanded that he condemn her. Instead he responded by saying that the one without sin should throw the first stone at her. To her great surprise, each of these religious leaders slunk away and she found herself alone with Jesus. He said to her very gently, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’
The third witness comes from the centurion who was in charge of the squad of men who nailed Jesus to the cross (Luke 23:32-24). He had done this task many times before, but the response of Jesus was unique. The others that he had crucified had cursed and sworn and lashed out. Jesus simply prayed, ‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.’ He gently responded to the actions of the soldiers, and later that day they were converted (Matt. 27:54).
The fourth witness is Mary Magdalene, and she can tell what she experienced on the day Jesus arose from the dead (John 20:1-18). She had determined to take care of the body of Jesus as a final gesture of love. Yet she had discovered that the tomb was empty and an angel had informed her that Jesus was risen from the dead. Although she had gone and told Peter and John that the tomb was empty, it would take more than the words of an angel to cause Mary to have hope. When Jesus drew near to her as she wept in the garden, she imagined that he was the gardener who had removed the body of Jesus. Despite her lack of faith on this important day, Jesus gently said to her, ‘Mary.’
These selected incidents confirm that Jesus was gentle when he was here on earth. Yet we can listen to another set of witnesses – his people. They have found that he has dealt gently with them. When they found themselves being rebuked by others in the days of their spiritual darkness, they discovered that Jesus could do more than rebuke. The ones that rebuked them had no power to pardon, but Jesus gently forgave them. When they made spiritual mistakes on important days like Mary, and imagined that they has spoiled it, they heard gentle Jesus calling them by name. When they questioned his dealings in providence like Peter, they heard Jesus telling them to fear not. They can testify that throughout life Jesus has been gentle with them. Life has been a school where the Teacher has displayed that his qualifications are up-to-date.