Reflections on the Readings
Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 30, 2011 - Year A
By Dennis S. Hankins
Jesus Ever Gentle
But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children...because you had become very dear to us. - St. Paul to the Church of Thessalonica
Jesus gives us the soul of greatness in today's gospel reading: "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant." In outlining the deficiencies of servanthood in the Pharisees we see Jesus in the contrast. The Pharisees burden the people and do not offer consolation or assistance. Jesus is the burden bearer and invites all who are heavy laden to come to him because his burden is light. The Pharisees wear out the people but Jesus gives them rest. The Pharisees love to be seen and respected and revered. Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give himself without measure and without charge.
The Pharisees, however, did not serve the people under their care with gentleness. Jesus upheld their authority to teach the word of God as received through Moses. After all, Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it. But the Pharisees have misplaced priorities. They desire to be seen and they show off their piety by widening their phylacteries and lengthening their tassels. The Pharisees demand to sit in the seats of honor and expect to be called 'Rabbi' on the streets of Jerusalem. We can safely say that the scribes and the Pharisees didn't practice what they preached. They failed to be shaped and formed by the very word of God they taught. It's the old adage that says, "Don't do as I do, just do as I tell you to do." That kind of attitude is always abrasive and condescending. I'm sure all of us have scars to prove it as well.
There are 613 commands in the Mosaic Law. We all wrestle with legal documents inundated with small print. Tell me how you like reading that stuff! The small print is why we hire a lawyer. But Jesus came to show us and to tell us that the details are about two things - we are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourself. That's it. It's the milk poured over the cereal. The Pharisees were choking the people with the dry details. Now the details matter but there is a way to help it go down right. And that's where Jesus comes in. Jesus put his arm around the people and walked them back into the love of the Father.
Jesus ever gentle.
Jesus came to us as a servant. Even though he is God he emptied himself and was born in the likeness of you and me. In joining his divinity to our humanity, Christ did not consider his Godhood as something to cling to. And in his human form he humbled himself and became obedient to all the demands of death, even death on a cross. God tasted death for every person on this planet. That's the soul and majesty of greatness. It is the kind of humility and gentleness we are to have in ourselves and toward each other. St. Paul writes: Let love be genuine...love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
The gentleness of greatness comes in the small packages of kindness and manners. It's the little Acts of Random Kindness that makes a house a home - a little ARK in a world that is adrift. It is weeping with those who weep. It is showing empathy in our relationships and in our conversations. It's living in harmony with one another and associating with the lowly. And as much as it is possible it is living peaceably with all.
The Pharisees wouldn't even lift a finger to help someone struggling under their load. But the Lord of Glory who died on the cross asks you and me to take up our cross and follow him. Along the way to heaven we are carrying our responsibility to be tender hearted and gentle and filled with humility like him who died for us. Gentle - what a powerful word in a world filled with distorted ideas about greatness and superiority. Jesus upheld the law - Thou shalt not kill - Thou shalt not commit adultery - Thou shalt not covet - the very words meant to teach us gentleness. The Pharisees sitting in Moses' seat must have missed that!
We all have a little bit of 'pharisee' in us. Gentleness eludes us. Ignoring the consequences, swift and decisive action is more appealing. Flying off the handle is quick and deadly to a marriage and to our sons and daughters. Having our way or no way may feel smart but in the end it's a lonely existence. "Has not the one God created us?" Malachi asks. Yet we break faith with one another when we bite and devour and use and abuse each other.
We know in our heart of hearts that Christ must increase in us. We know we need more reverence for God and for all who are made in his image. We know that gentleness is the tie that binds law and grace together. And without it we know we will care less, love less, and be less than ourselves. There is hope for us today. This morning this Holy Eucharist will enlarge our soul. In these humble elements of bread and wine we receive the blessed body and blood of Jesus. He will fill us with the spirit of kindness and gently put his arm around us and lead us back to the Father's love. Jesus is ever gentle among us and takes care of us like a mother takes care of her children because we are very special and dear to him. There is hope for us all. Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to his uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org His website is: www.dennishankins.com