Try a Little Gentleness – Ben Sim, SJ

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Matthew 11:25-30, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, a Greek slave, by the name of Aesop,  compiled a collection of stories known today as Aesop’s Fables.  One of the fables deals with a dispute between the sun and the wind. The dispute was over which of the two was the stronger.

One day an opportunity arose to settle the dispute. A man dressed in a coat was walking downa deserted country road. The sun said to the wind, “Whoever makes that man remove his coat faster will be the winner.” The wind not only agreed, but volunteered to go first. He blew and blew, but the more he blew, the tighter the man held on to his coat. Finally, exhausted, the wind gave up.

Then the sun took over. It merely shone in all its glory. Within minutes, the man took off his coat. 

Aesop said the moral of the story was this: You can achieve more by gentleness than by violence.

Today violence is more popular than gentleness. In business we are told to be aggressive rather than gentle. In politics, people try to get into office by hook or by crook – by guns and goons, by cheating, or downright snatching of ballot boxes, when defeat was evident. Some traffic disputes are settled by the gun. The ability to manipulate is more important than respect and integrity. In sports, sportsmanship is a thing of the past –  winning is all that counts.  Play rough and cheat. It’s part of the game.  Sportscasters speak of a “good foul.”

Today, gentleness is considered a weakness. If you are kind and courteous in traffic, people say “mahina ka!”  That’s why the common practice is “Don’t let anyone get ahead of you!” Or “Have guns, will shoot.”

Our own families reflect the violence of our age. We practice what we see on TV and movies. We shout and scream at each other. We kick pets, smash things, and even slap or beat up one another. In school, gentle students often are victimized by bullies. How different from what Jesus taught us!   

“Learn from me,” said Jesus, “because I am gentle and humble of heart.”

The prophet Isaiah foretold the gentleness of Jesus when he said: “He will not shout or raise his voice or make loud speeches in the streets. He will not break off a bent reed nor put out a flickering lamp.”

A beautiful example of the gentleness of Jesus is the way he handled the case of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was gentle not only with the woman, but also with her self-righteous accusers. Jesus did not shout or threaten them. He did not curse and yell. He simply bent down gently, and wrote in the sand with his finger.  His action stood out like a clap of thunder  in the silence of a summer’s night.

Jesus taught us to be gentle also. He held up for our imitation the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep. He didn’t beat up the stray sheep or drag it home. He placed it gently on his shoulders. Jesus also held up for our imitation the Father of the ProdigalSon. The father didn’t scold his wayward son. He didn’t punish him; he hugged him.  He wants us to follow his example.

The following story illustrates this point.
Once upon a time there was a young prince. He was very handsome except for one thing: He had a crooked back.  This birth defect caused him great sorrow. It also kept him from being the kind of prince that he really wanted to be for his people. 

One day the prince’s father asked the best sculptor in his kingdom to make a statue of the prince. It should portray him, however,not with a crooked back, but with a straight back. The king wanted his son to see himself as he could be.

When the sculptor finished the statue, it was truly magnificent. It was so lifelike that you could mistake it for the prince. The king placed the statue in the prince’s private garden.

Each day when the prince went to the garden to study, he looked longingly at the statue. Then one day he noticed that when he did this, his heart beat faster and his body tingled. Months passed.

Soon the people began to say to one another, “The prince’s back doesn’t seem as crooked as it once did.” When the prince heard this, his heart beat even faster and his body tingled even more. The prince began to go to the garden more often. He spent hours standing before the statue, studying it closely, and meditating on it.

Then one day a remarkable thing happened. The prince found himself standing as straight as the statue.

That story is a parable of you and me.  We too were born to be a prince or a princess. And we too had a defect that kept us from being the kind of person we were meant to be.

Then one day our Father in heaven sent his only Son, Jesus, into the world. Jesus is the perfect image of what you and I were born to be. He stands spiritually straight and beautiful.  When we look at Jesus, our heart beats faster, and our body tingles, and we begin to dream.

Today’s Gospel contains an important invitation for all of us. It invites us to learn from Jesus, because he is “gentle and humble in spirit.”  Concretely, what does this mean for us in the week ahead?

First, it means we try to respond to people as the sun did in Aesop’s fable of the wind and the sun. We try to respond to people with genuine warmth.

Second, it means we try to respond to those who wrong us as Jesus did in the case of the sinful woman, and as the father did in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We try to respond with understanding and compassion.

Let’s conclude with a prayer:

Lord, during the week ahead, help to us remember the lesson of the sun in the fable of the wind and the sun. Help us strive to be like Jesus as the prince strove to be perfectly straightlike the statue. Help us remember the words of Your Son who said: “Learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart.”

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