Gentleness, Justice, a Beast and a Lamb.
The Jesus story unfolds in the context of a Jewish people who are waiting for a Messiah (or Christ) to come and lead them to victory over their foreign oppressors. They want a King who would demonstrate an unwavering passion and commitment to holiness, purity and devotion to their religious laws, and who would rise up and enact a holy revolution against the pagan empire.
And then word starts to spread that Jesus is going around doing miracles, teaching with great wisdom and authority, healing people… gathering a following. Could this be the one they’ve been waiting for? And yet when the religious leaders look at Jesus, they don’t see what they would expect in a Messiah. He does not appear to be very good at following the rules as they understand them, and he does not appear to be starting a military revolution.
But in Matthew 12 the author writes that Jesus was fulfilling an idea that is found in the words of the ancient prophet Isaiah:
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”
Originally, Isaiah 42 was written to the Jewish people who were living in exile in Babylon. They had been captured and taken away from their homeland, now living under a foreign and violent empire. And the prophet claims that God will raise up a servant who will bring justice to the nations.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann states that the prophetic idea of justice in the Old Testament is about: “the reordering of social life and social power so that the weak… may live a life of dignity, security, and well-being.” (see W. Brueggemann, Isaiah 40-66).
The justice of God is about giving dignity back to those who have been crushed by the use of power and violence in the world. But this justice is not to come about through the taking up of violence. Through using your power over others. Through control and manipulation. When the prophet Isaiah says that this will come through a servant that will be raised up by YHWH, he says that this justice will come in such a way that they will not break a bruised reed, and they will not extinguish a flickering candle. God’s justice comes with gentleness.
The Apostle Paul lists “gentleness” as one the fruits of the Spirit at work in our humanity. And elsewhere he says, “let your gentleness be evident to all, for the Lord is near.” There is something about the closeness of God that should remind us that gentleness is the way of the divine life of the Spirit.
Our temptation is often away from the path of gentleness. We are tempted to use whatever power we have to get our own way. We want to be right. We want more control. We want people to behave in ways that suit us and make our own lives easier and more enjoyable. And sometimes in order to do that we lose sight of the humanness of others. They become an object.
And yet there is this calling into a different kind of life. A life of gentleness. True gentleness asks us to consider the other. In the book of Revelation the author uses dramatic imagery to draw profound contrasts between the violence of the empire – symbolised by beasts who come out of the ocean and the earth seeking war, and violence and domination over others – and the image of how God overcomes the violence of these beasts: a lamb that was slain.
Up against the violence and power of the beasts.
A lamb that gives up its life.
Up against the violence and power of empires that use military might, fear, and oppression.
And yet it is the lamb that was slain who wins.
It is the way of love and of gentleness that is the path to the future. The path to life.
The path to full humanness.