When someone opens the Four Gospels for the first time, even if he is yet an unbeliever, it seems hardly possible that he will fail to observe the compassion and gentleness of Jesus of Nazareth. Even if such a reader cannot yet correctly answer the question, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is he?” (Matthew 22:42), he nonetheless finds vibrant in those pages a figure “who went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), a person supremely attractive for his gentleness and mercy. Jesus himself, moreover, drew attention to this trait, making it a motive for men to become his disciples. “Take my yoke upon you,” he said, “and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
Five aspects of this self-description of Jesus are especially striking and worthy of reflection.
First, the Greek word here translated as “gentle,” praüs, conveys the sense of humility and heartfelt meekness. Indeed, the words “gentle” and “lowly in heart,” placed together in this verse, form an adjectival hendiadys expressing a single idea. Significantly, praüs is also the adjective that Matthew uses to speak of those meek who will inherit the earth (5:5). With respect to the gentleness of Jesus himself, this same evangelist cites a prophecy of Isaiah (42:2–3) that he sees fulfilled thereby: “He will not quarrel nor cry out, / Nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. / A bruised reed he will not break, / And smoking flax he will not quench” (12:19–20).
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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