"Gentle Jesus"

By Margaret Knight

To deal first with the personality of Jesus. If one reads the Gospels with a fresh mind, one gets a picture of the founder of Christianity that is quite startlingly different from the traditional "gentle Jesus." The conception of Jesus as meek and gentle may derive in part from his refusal to plead his cause before Pilate. But Jesus may well, by this time, have identified himself with the "suffering servant" of Isaiah 53 ("He is brought as a lamb to
the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth
not his mouth"
)-and have been consciously fulfilling the role for which
he believed he was prophetically destined. In his preaching, he continually extolled loving kindness and meekness, but, as so often happens, his practice fell short of his precepts. He was, it is true, gentle and affectionate towards his disciples and towards those who took him at his own valuation: and he was tolerant towards self-confessed sinners. But he was a fanatic; and, like most fanatics, he could not tolerate disagreement or criticism. Towards the Pharisees and others who were sceptical of his messianic pretensions, he was often savagely vindictive. Any hint of criticism, any demand that he should produce evidence for his claims, was liable to provoke a torrent of wrath and denunciation. Most of Chapter 2 3 of St.Matthew's Gospel, for example, is not, as we are encouraged to regard it,a lofty and dignified rebuke: it is what on any other lips would be described as a stream of invective.

 "Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which, indeed, appear
beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all un-
cleanness ... Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the
damnation of hell?"

This can hardly be called loving one's enemies. Jesus, in fact, was typical of a certain kind of fanatical young idealist: at one moment holding forth, with tears in his eyes, about the need for universal love; at the next, furiously denouncing the morons, crooks and bigots who do not see eye to eye with him. It is very natural and very human behaviour. But it is not superhuman. Many of the great men of history
(for example, Socrates) have met criticism with more dignity and restraint.

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"Gentle Jesus"


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