Gentleness is a hard lesson learned. Paul’s conversion must have eaten up much of the three years he spent communing with Jesus in the desert asking this question. “How could I have missed who you were?”
And yet, only a decade or two later, he can say, “Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16)
Image by sebastiano iervolino
By John Pearring
I Corinthians 4:6-15
When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently.
(1 Corinthians 4:12-13)
Our lives as fathers and mothers come down to this. Bless, endure, and be gentle. That may not be what St. Paul meant in his explanation as a Spiritual Father to the Corinthians. That, however, is what I heard.
My thoughts take a side road on Paul’s description of holy behavior. I hear instead an outwardly focused desire against an inwardly failing reality. He was not an amazing unblemished saint. I am projecting my own failings in this regard, of course. My thoughts on his broken humanity have been influenced by my brokenness.
I imagine Paul saying these lovely things to do when under the gun knowing how often he had responded “without” blessings, endurance, and gentleness. Like me with my own children. He wasn’t always kind and measured. How could anyone be that way?
I steel myself against my worst practices when insulted, ridiculed, and taken out of context. Worse when I strike back, call “foul,” and blister too easily. I am merely a tad better at loving my children first before speaking harshly.
Gentleness is a hard lesson learned. Paul’s conversion must have eaten up much of the three years he spent communing with Jesus in the desert asking this question. “How could I have missed who you were?” And yet, only a decade or two later, he can say, “Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me.” (1 Corinthians 4:16)
We parents, battered by our children’s struggles to mature, want so much for them to know and trust the God who loves them. Few of us feel up to the level of sainthood to imitate. We’re definitely not perfect. How could Paul have been so excellent? Was it hubris for him to call out for the Christians he pastored to imitate him?
I could be wrong about this. St. Paul might have been wonderful.
Nah. I don’t think so. Not at all. Only a man filled with the misery of his own failings would hear God’s tender words coaxing him to be a more positive example. I think this way because of his difficulties with Timothy. He appears to have lost his temper with Timothy several times, eventually abandoning him. All is good in this letter, but not so much in others.
Yet, there he is, “. . . be imitators of me.” Can I say that to my children?
I think I must.
I operate with care frequently, knowing their eyes are on me, watching what I do. And seeing what I don’t do. I constantly pray that God will use me wisely with them. Unfortunately, he has allowed them to see me in my low moments, hearing my snarky, haughty retorts. Not too often, I hope, but too often for me to feel worthy of their attentive hearts.
And then Paul reminds us there is no public or worldly reward for goodness. One more sentence must be heard in Paul’s call for the Corinthians to emulate his life.
“When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment.”
(1 Corinthians 4:12-13)
We may be seen as scum by the world because of our orthodox and conventional ways, which is an anachronism. Because of our unwavering pro-life positions, an affront to their sense of compassion. Because of our insistence on religious freedom, an eyesore in the world’s dedication to self-made discoveries and solutions.
Still, we must bless, endure, and be gentle.
I ask the saints to pray for us, the angels to protect us, and the Father, Son, and Spirit to dwell in us.
Make us courageous and worthy to imitate.