Final Words: “This is Your Son”

Final Words: “This is Your Son” March 26, 2024

Final Words: “This is your son.” Jesus, on the cross, shows us what the Gentle Life looks like.

If you have missed the first two posts this week, click here:

“The Forgiving Life.”

“The Merciful Life.”

It was almost 13 years ago. I was in the hospital just after the birth of our firstborn. I had obviously never been a dad before and had very little experience with newborn babies. She looked so fragile lying there in her bed in the NICU. The nurse asked me, “Do you want to hold her?”

I was elated and terrified at the same time. Elated to finally hold my little girl after waiting for 40 weeks for her to be born. Terrified because she seemed so fragile, so vulnerable. I was afraid I would break her. She was the smallest human being I had ever encountered.

But I held her anyway, and she survived so I must have done something right. I cupped her in my hands, cradled her in my arms. I treated her much like I might handle something fragile and valuable, like a laptop computer or a family heirloom. I didn’t want to accidentally hurt her by being too firm, too strong. I was, in a word, gentle with her.

Author interruption: For holy week, I am posting on the final seven words of Jesus as he was crucified. You can also check out the podcast I host with my good friend Matt on Spotify. You can also join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter and Threads @revsteve83

Gentleness is like holding a baby. It accomodates to a person’s value and vulnerability. Public Domain.

The Gentle Life

Gentleness is not something we talk a lot about, in society or in church. Gentleness does not seem terribly useful in our culture. Gentle people don’t tend to dominate the business world; they lack the “killer instinct” or the “naked ambition” to partake in the cutthroat world of capitalism. Gentle people don’t tend to make it very far in politics; it’s often the loudest, the boldest, the brashest and, quite frankly, the meanest voices that tend to stand out and gain traction politically. Gentleness is often something we let people who work with kids or the elderly possess, but don’t tend to value it in most other spheres of life.

Jesus and Paul on Gentleness

Yet Jesus praised the gentle. He said in his Sermon on the Mount, “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Meek is from a word family that would include gentleness. Jesus said that it won’t be the strong or the powerful that will inherit the earth, but the gentle and lowly.

Paul extolled the virtue of gentleness in his letters. In Galatians 5, he includes among 8 other virtues that we know as the Fruit of the Spirit. Those who possess the Holy Spirit in their lives will be gentle. Gentleness is evidence of the presence of God the Holy Spirit in one’s life.

Paul also urges the Philippians to allow their “gentleness to show in their treatment of all people.” Of all the things Paul could have said to be on display in the behavior of the disciples in Philippi, Paul picked gentleness. Gentleness seems to be far more important to Jesus and to Paul than it is to us.

Jesus himself was a gentle person. This gentleness was on display on the cross. The Apostle John shares with us Jesus’ Third Words from the cross in our passage today. These words show a gentle Jesus, one who, despite the pain and anguish of the cross, is still looking out for those who are vulnerable. In his words to his mother and to the beloved disciple, Jesus shows that the Gentle Life is a key part of having a Crucifixed life.

Gentleness Defined

Let’s define gentleness, first. Gentleness is treating someone with respect to their vulnerability and their value. When I held my children in my arms the first time, I was overcome with how infinitely precious they were. This was my child, a treasured gift from God. This was a life made in the image of God. Nothing could be more valuable to me than this child.

Letting People be People

But this child was also vulnerable. She could not care for itself. She was small and helpless. And so, given her value and her vulnerability, I treated her with care. I carried her softly and securely. I cradled her in my arm so her head could be properly supported. My movements were slow and soft. I treated this valuable and vulnerable little person gently.

Now, as my girls grew, I didn’t have to be as soft or secure. I didn’t have to cradle their heads once their necks were strong enough to support them. Once they were stronger and firmer themselves, I could start to tickle them and toss them up in the air and swing them from their arms. I was still treating them according to their value and vulnerability, but they weren’t as vulnerable, so I could treat them a little differently and still be treating them gently. Another way to think about gentleness is with this definition from Michael Jensen, who writes,

“gentleness is a form of love that recognizes the vulnerability in others and allows for it rather than exploits it.”

Gentleness allows people to be people, it understands that people make mistakes or that people have weaknesses or that people can often struggle. Instead of using that knowledge for one’s own gain, gentleness lets it be and accepts the other person as a person, warts and all.

Can you be Gentle in a Dog-eat-Dog World?

When you run for political office in this country and if you have ever made a mistake in your life, your opponent will make sure everyone in the world knows about it. They will use your mistakes to their advantage, in order to drive down your poll numbers and win the election. That is decidedly ungentle.

When you are negotiating a deal in business and your negotiation partner knows a vulnerability in your company, he will use that to get a more favorable deal for himself. He will seek to exploit any and all negative information he can in order to save himself or make himself more money. That’s decidedly ungentle.

Or say you are arguing with your spouse and can’t come to an agreement about an important decision. You kept quiet about a previous time your spouse messed something up and you’ve held that card until just such a moment. Now you can exploit their mistake to get what you want and win this argument. That’s decidedly ungentle.

Now you can see why gentleness doesn’t get talked about. You can’t get ahead in life if you are gentle. You can’t grab power, you can’t make money, you can’t get what you want being gentle. In a dog-eat-dog world, gentleness is deciding to be the dog that always gets eaten. And nobody wants to be the dog that always gets eaten.

The Gentle Jesus

Yet, Jesus praised the gentle and was himself gentle. Gentleness is evidence that one is truly a follower of Jesus and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And gentleness was on display in Jesus’ interaction with his mother while he was being crucified. In order to be Crucifixed, in order to live a life shaped by the cross of Jesus, then one must be gentle.

John tells us that there were four women gathered at the cross to witness Jesus’ death. These four women drew near to Jesus at his moment of greatest vulnerability. While the men who followed Jesus had betrayed, denied, or just plain abandoned him, these four women were courageous enough to be seen with Jesus in his moment of shame and were willing to share in his shame.

John tells us that Mary, the mother of Jesus was present, as was her sister, Jesus’ aunt on his mother’s side. Also there was Mary, the wife of Clopas, who commentators believe was Mary’s sister-in-law, or Joseph’s wife. This would make her Jesus’ aunt on his father’s side. Then we have Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ most faithful followers, the one who would be the apostle to the apostles as the first witness of Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus is hanging on a Roman cross, in excruciating pain. Each breath requires astonishingly painful effort. He is constantly on the verge of suffocation. He has been flogged with a cat-o-nine tails and is a bloody mess. He is in no position to really care about anything else but his own need to push himself up on the cross in order to draw breath. And he is in certainly no position to care about the needs of anyone else.

Jesus and his Mother

Yet Jesus gazes upon his mother, Mary. Mary at this point is a widow and probably has been for some time. As the firstborn son, it normally would have been Jesus’ duty to bring his widowed mother into his own house. Because of Jesus’ mission and ministry, he has not done this for his mother, presumably with her understanding and encouragement. Mary knows her son is different and knows his path is not the normal one. Yet, having already lost her husband and now about to lose her firstborn son, Mary is in a very vulnerable position in life. She is about to be left without someone to care for her.

We know from elsewhere in the gospels that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him. They did not recognize their older brother as any such Messiah and probably harbored some bitterness or envy toward him. Imagine being Jesus’ little brother. Imagine being constantly compared to Jesus. Imagine hearing your mom or your dad frustratedly asking you, “Why can’t you be more like Jesus?”

There could have been some distance between Mary and her other children, who did not share her devotion to Jesus. Perhaps there is even some estrangement between Mary and her other children. This might explain why Jesus did what he does.

“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”

Jesus and the Beloved Disciple

The only other time we see Mary in John’s gospel is in chapter 2, when Mary asks Jesus to help when a wedding has run out of wine. In both interactions, Jesus calls Mary, “woman” which is a term of endearment that doesn’t quite translate to modern English. Men, do not call your wives, “woman.” I do not think it will end well for you. Sons, do not call your mothers “woman.” I know it will end poorly for you.

Jesus looks to his mother and to his beloved disciple, who is almost certainly John. Some commentators believe John refers to himself as the beloved disciple and not by name out of modesty but I’d love to hear the other disciples’ reaction to that choice. Imagine Peter reading this and saying to John, “Really, John? ‘The disciple whom Jesus loved?’ What does that make me, the disciple whom Jesus did NOT love? What are you implying, here, John?”

Anyway, Jesus introduces Mary to her new son, John, and John to his new mother, Mary. In a metaphorical sense, Jesus is showing what the new family of faith will look like: family is more than who your mother or father or son or daughter or brother or sister or aunt or uncle is. Family is sharing Christ together. Family is formed by faith in Jesus Christ and we belong to each other as a son would to a mother or a sister to a brother.

Jesus Recognizes Mary’s Vulnerability

But in a more practical, face-value sense, Jesus, in his moment of vulnerability, recognizes his mother’s vulnerability and moves to address it. He provides for her by providing her with a son to look after her, to bring her into his house, to care for her in her widowhood. Jesus, from the cross, shows us how to treat people gently in the care he shows for his mother.

And credit to John. He tells us that from that day forward, he took Mary into his house and cared for her as his own mother. He treated her according to her value, as a person created by God in his image and likeness and the mother of the Savior. He treated her according to her vulnerability and cared for her in her widowhood. Even though it was a massive responsibility that he did not owe to Mary or anyone, John gently and graciously took it upon himself to care for Mary. He followed Jesus’ example of gentleness with gentleness of his own.

The Cross as God’s Gentleness to Us

Of course, the cross represents gentleness in another significant way. God looked upon humanity and saw not rebellious sinners, primarily, but people he created in his image, people who were of utmost value to him. God created people in order that he might love them and be loved by them in return. God created people for relationship with himself and prizes and treasures and loves people.

God also saw these valued people and saw their vulnerability. Our sinful rebellion against God and his ways meant that we are vulnerable to death, vulnerable to temptation, vulnerable to evil. Sin had made us its slaves, its captives, and separated from God as we were, we were cut off from the source of life and the life of abundance that God intended for us to live.

So God, out of his gentleness, did not see us as people to exploit or punish or even ignore. He sent Jesus his son into this world and Jesus chose to die on the cross so that we, treasured and beloved by God, might be rescued from sin and evil and death and brought into new life and renewed relationship with our creator. God was did not treat us according to our sin, but saw us in our pitiable state and treated us according to our value and our vulnerability. God is a gentle God. Jesus demonstrates that gentleness on the cross.

Living the Gentle Life

As Jesus lived the Gentle Life, so too must we, his followers, live the Gentle Life. Gentleness must become a part of our character if our lives are to be shaped by the cross.

Trust God’s Sovereignty

In order to live the Gentle Life, we must first learn to trust God and to trust his sovereignty, or his rule over the world. Living the Gentle Life automatically disqualifies certain pathways to gaining success and power and influence that might otherwise be available to us. We will be surrounded by people using those pathways and we will be left vulnerable to others if we choose to live gently. However, if we trust God, and trust that he is ultimately in control, that he ultimately has all the power, then we will be able to deal with perhaps losing out on success or power or influence. We will be able to trust that living rightly is its own reward and that even if earthly success eludes us, eternal success awaits us. Living gently requires us to trust that God is near to us and that God will care for us.

View People like God Views People

Secondly, it requires that we view people as God views people. God loves all people and highly values them. He is able to look beyond their sin and their mistakes to see the person he created. If people are of such value to God, they should be of such value to us.

I don’t like the term “human beings.” It implies that we are static creatures, stuck in our ways and fated to never change. I prefer the term “human becomings.” All people are in process. All people can grow and learn and become more fully human in the way that God intended them to. In order to treat people gently, we need to remember that all people are in process.

I remember when I was a youth pastor, I had one of my middle school students suffer from major depression to the point where she had to be hospitalized for it. I remember sitting with her parents, who were so loving and gentle with her, and listening to their fears and worries and wondering what they did wrong. I told them that they had done nothing wrong, and in terms of treating their daughter, had done everything right. I told them, “Your daughter’s story is not over. We’re in the early chapters right now. Her story is still being written.” Sure enough, the young woman recovered and healed and is now thriving. Her story wasn’t over, and the gentle and nurturing approach her parents patiently took with her helped lead her to that recovery and healing.

Nobody’s story is ever over. We can’t always see what page we are on in someone else’s story and we don’t know where that story is headed. There could be a crazy plot twist coming up that sees the person completely change their life around. And remember, you are also in process. You also would not want to be defined by your biggest mistakes and you also would want to have people see how you’ve grown. Give that gift to others.

Center the Other

Thirdly, we must learn to center the other person. We must learn to see people not for what we might gain from them but for what we might offer to them. We need to listen to people well, understand their perspective, empathize with their feelings and treat them accordingly. We must seek what is best for the other and live our lives in such a way that we are always alert to the needs of those around us.

Clearing up a Misconception

Now, before I go, I’d like to address a common misperception people have of gentleness: that’s its unmanly. We typically associate gentleness with women. It seems to be a softer, more feminine virtue than those we would typically associate with manhood. Many of the activities I just listed, such as listening and empathizing seem to be more associated with women than with men.

But I suggest to you today that there are few things more manly than gentleness. When you are gentle, you are controlling your base urges; you are exerting strength but directing it toward the benefit of others in a way that they need. You are in control of yourself and choosing to put the other person and their needs first. You are recognizing vulnerability and seeking to care for it. You are protecting that which is valuable and vulnerable.

Gentleness is not some deficiency in masculinity. What would we be saying about Jesus if we thought that? Jesus was in total control of himself as he sought to do that which needed to be done by dying on the cross for us. He could have called down 10,000 angels to wipe out his enemies. But he was in control of his strength, and used it to endure the cross to do what needed to be done for us.

Besides, we shouldn’t let cultural impressions of what manhood and womanhood look like overrule what the Bible plainly teaches us: blessed are the meek, the Holy Spirit produces gentleness in us and that gentleness should manifest itself in the way we treat our neighbors.

Jesus lived the Gentle Life. On the cross, he showed us what gentleness looks like in caring for his beloved mother in her moment of vulnerability and in dying to save all of humanity. We live the Gentle Life when we trust God to care for us, allow people to be people, and center their needs above our own. Let us aspire to live a Holy Spirit-inspired life of gentleness.

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