Thursday of the Fifth Week in Lent: Long-Suffering, Gentleness – Evelyn Underhill

Rembrandt – St Peter in Prison

THE next fruit of the Spirit, says Saint Paul, is long-suffering and gentleness – much patient endurance as regards what life does to us, much loving-kindness, care, consideration in all contacts with other lives.  Here another region is submitted to God’s influence and in consequence another source of strain taken away.  If the first three fruits form a little group growing up at the soul’s very centre, gentleness and long-suffering are borne on the branches that stretch out towards the world.  They are the earnest of what Ruysbroeck calls the wide-spreading nature of love, giving itself to all in common, kind to the unjust as well as the just.

Consider first the long-suffering of God, the long-suffering and gentleness of Absolute Perfection and Absolute power, and how the further we press into the deeps of spiritual experience, the more those qualities are seen.  How God looks past the imperfections of men {as we look past those of children}, with what unexacting love He accepts and uses the faulty. 

See how Christ deliberately chooses Peter; while completely realizing Peter, his unreliable qualities, his boasting and cocksureness, his prompt capitulation to fear.  Peter’s family must have thought, “Thank Heaven! A chance for the tiresome creature now” when he joined the apostolic band.  But Christ did not just put up with him.  He offered him a continual and special friendship, knowing what was in the man.  He took Peter into the inner fastness of Gethsemane and asked for his prayer and did not get it.  {Is that the way we handle our tiresome and unreliable friends?  Because it is with personal contacts we have always got to begin.} 

It was to Peter Christ addressed His rare reproach, “What!  Could you not watch one hour?”; and it was from this that Peter went to the denial.  Yet in spite of all, the long-suffering love and trust of Christ won in the end and made Peter the chief of the Apostles – the Rock – what irony! – on which He built the Church.  He was right, for here the Church is now.  In Peter’s care, and to Peter’s love, Christ left the feeding of the sheep: a remarkable sequel.  

Who shines in that series of events?  Christ or Peter?  Christ shines – but Peter is transformed.  Christ’s attitude and action are only possible to holiness and they are justified by results.  Here is a standard set for us in our dealings with the faulty.  The fruit of the Spirit is never rigorism, but always long-suffering.  No startling high standard.  No all or nothing demands.  But gentleness and tolerance in spiritual, moral, emotional, intellectual judgements and claims.

The Fruits of the Spirit

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