At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:2–11 NIV)
In his book Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging, Brennan Manning famously said, “Our identity rests in God’s relentless tenderness for us revealed in Jesus Christ.”
Our identity rests.
In a fractured world with sharp edges that aim to callous and harden us, the virtue ethic of the tenderness of God, the kind we can obtain rest from, is something to behold. Yet, if you’ve observed what moral virtues have been promoted over the past several years, you might notice the virtue of gentleness has been all but removed from the rhetoric. You may even see the absence in your own heart as you aim to engage with a world that doesn’t often reward or reciprocate gentleness. The temptation to forgo the fruit of gentleness is only magnified by the misconception that gentleness is weakness.
Biblical gentleness is not weakness or passivity, but rather strength under control. It results from thoughtful restraint and the ability to respond calmly and patiently, even in challenging situations. Gentleness is exemplified in the life of Jesus, who, despite being the Son of God with all the power available to him, displayed gentleness and humility throughout his ministry on earth.
In John 8, Jesus gives us the perfect, living example of choosing the spirit of gentleness in a way that resisted the cultural status quo.
I sometimes think about that story in light of our sinful ways today, imagining Jesus spelling out our own rejection of his commands by drawing in the sand and then, in a grand swell of a moment, refusing to stone a single one of us. A gift of gentleness from the one holding all the power and loving us enough to spare us from the harshest displays of it.
Perhaps the virtue of gentleness isn’t as far removed from our lives as it can seem. “Be gentle” is what we say to older siblings when we cart home their newborn siblings—wholly aware of the delicate nature of new life. It’s carefully stepping over the anthill instead of stomping it down, appreciating the smallest graces of creation and allowing its carefully built underground ecosystem to exist another day. It’s writing that harsh social media post or response, then deleting it after remembering an angry word has never once changed a heart.
The spirit of gentleness is evidenced in a humanity domesticated by the ongoing work of the Spirit, living in and growing us into his divine craftsmanship on earth so the world will see in and through us the meeting of the meek and the majesty found in Jesus.
Easter is when we have many opportunities to both hear and share the story of what God did for us through the life and ultimate death and resurrection of Jesus. In these weeks leading up to Easter, our opportunity is to lean into the work in us through the work of the Spirit.
Sarah Sciarini is the director of Communications for First Baptist Church in Lodi, California, and NorCal NAB. She’s is also a part of EYELET working to elevate the voices of younger leaders in the NAB.