TEXT: Galatians 6:1-18
“May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters” (Galatians 6:18).
These words, written by Saint Paul to the Christians in Galatia, come coursing down the centuries, a benediction on us from this man of God. And then, being the teacher that he is, Paul gives us some instruction, not on how to obtain this grace—for he would be the first to tell you that grace is a free gift from God—but rather on how, having been so gifted, we should then live our lives.
Early in the Epistle reading appointed for today, we hear Paul speaking of “a spirit of gentleness.”
This is not the only time we will hear about the quality of gentleness in Holy Scripture—nor, indeed, the only time we will hear Paul talking about it. But what does it mean—gentleness? What kind of person can be described as possessing this quality?
We probably need to rid ourselves of the image of one who is meek, mild, ineffective—what we would call a “doormat.” We’ve all read St. Paul’s letters and it is doubtful that you would use any of those terms to describe him.
Earlier in this same Letter to the Galatians, we read: “When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face …” (2:11)
Cephas, you understand, is Peter—even then, considered by many to be the chief of apostles. But Paul wasn’t afraid to take him on! The disagreement they had doesn’t bear re-hashing here—but the point is: Paul was not a meek doormat!
However, he also knew that “a gentle answer turns away wrath.”
Remember his advice to the Galatians: “If anyone is detected in transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.”
In other words, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!
In a given instance, we may be right and our sister or brother may be wrong. But if we speak to that person in such a way as to anger them, or cause them to become defensive—or so as to shame or humiliate them—the only thing we will accomplish is to slam the door shut on future discussion.
Hostile words can destroy relationships.
“Speak the truth in love,” Paul encourages us in the letter to the Ephesians (4:15). A spirit of gentleness leaves the door open for the other person to think about what we have said, perhaps to talk again.
It leaves the door open for us as well. Because sometimes—just possibly—we will be the ones who are in the wrong!
This same spirit of gentleness is needed when we share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others. The author of First Peter wrote about this:
“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Nobody likes being hit over the head, even if it is with good news. “Let your gentleness be known to all,” Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians (4:5).
The Christians in Galatia lived in a world that was much in need of a spirit of gentleness. So do we! As ambassadors of Christ, it is up to all of us to contribute this spirit of gentleness.
- In a world where competitiveness reigns, can we sometimes just yield to one another?
- In a world full of road rage, can we practice a little courtesy, even on the freeway?
- In a world of worsening climate crisis, can we live gently—and responsibly—within nature?
- In a world where politicians demonize their opponents in order to win elections, can we listen to both sides?
- In a world where even Christians let disagreements fracture the body of Christ, can we still be agents of God’s reconciliation?
Earlier in this same Epistle, Paul writes: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
And, as we hear in today’s reading, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow” (Gal. 6:7).
Let us, then, sow the kind of harvest that we will be happy to reap! As it is written in the letter of James: “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace” (James 3:18).
Lord, make us instruments of your love, your peace, your gentleness—this day, and always. Amen.