The Savior Must Have Been A Docile Gentleman

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston

I. Beginnings

The Savior must have been a docile gentleman, to come so far on a cold day – for little fellow man – words expressed from by the famed poet Emily Dickinson in her poem, “The Savior Must have Been a Docile Gentleman.”  What could she have meant? What was her commentary on the character of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?  Is she praising him for his docility or is she critiquing him?  Or is she critiquing us and our perception of Christ? Our savior, Jesus Christ, a docile gentleman.

II. What Is A Docile Gentleman?


           Docile, a word that means to be obedient, submissive, and well behaved – to be ready to accept the control of others and heed their instruction, to be in a way subservient.  To be a docile gentleman, it would seem that Christ would be a subservient person, one classified within the constructs of civilized society, one ready to accept the control of the world around him.  This classification of Christ would seem to be a bit unsettling, because how can Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, the one we have claimed to be the Lord and head of our lives, how could this man be classified as docile and subservient?

            If we feel discomfort, maybe that tells us a lot about ourselves.  We turn down our nose at the classification of docility because we function in a world that values the victor, the conqueror, we want our hero to reign with conquering power while any signs of meekness, mild in temperament, or docility is seen as weakness and abhorrent. We value the victor, the conqueror, the one who takes control and yet we ignore the milder temperament because we see it as a weakness and negative, but could it be that this docility is not a subservience but  an expression of love that is able to meet us in vulnerability, with true sincerity that we might be transformed? 

            Or could it be that our poet is creating a level of commentary around the way in which we try to engage with Christ, a critique on the rules and regulations that we have placed on our own religious experience? He was a docile gentleman to come so far on a cold day – we celebrate his birth in the winter and yet in our celebrations sometimes it seems as if we try to control who Christ is and how he meets us, rather than opening our hearts to the grace that God is extending through the gift of Christ: his birth, his teaching, his death, and resurrection.  This poem was written before the commercialization of society, but it has only been made worse as we try to place Christ in a box that suits our needs, portray him a way that is palatable for us to understand.  We even try to contain Christ in a way that we can access him when we feel like, but then put him back on the shelf when we are done with him as we continue on with the rest of our lives.   Surely that type of savior is docile in that he is subservient to our every whim, he acts the way in which we would have him to, and even justifies some of our bad behavior a he fits in our own little box of understanding – surely he seems to respond to our every whim.  But Jesus came that we might have life, he came and submitted himself to a cross, that we might live.  Is this description of Jesus to be a docile gentleman, is it a fair assessment that accurately portrays the Jesus of Scripture, the Savior of our lives? Does this classification of docility really represent our messiah, our savior, the prince of peace, the one who challenged the status quo, the stone that the builders rejected that has now become the cornerstone?

 III. The Parable

            We pick up in our narrative, right around the place where we left off last week. Right after the moment that the Pharisees have challenged Jesus because they do not know who the Son of Man is.  They seem to not know that he is the savior, the Son of God, the one who brings redemption to the world because they are blinded by their own power and study of the law, so they questioned with what authority he was teaching because his presence seemed to threaten their own authority.  It is interesting the things that we do when our ego gets in the way.  However, in the midst of this ego-trip, or trying to assert their own territory,  Jesus authoritatively continues to teach within the walls of Jerusalem, a masterful story-teller, teaching the gospel in a way that is relatable, tangible, and engaging – teaching in parables that his audience might understand the message.  So. he moves into his second parable an allegorical passage that reveals a lot about the relationship of humanity to God.

            An owner of a vineyard prepares his field, working hard to make it ready to birth a good harvest, that it might bear worthwhile fruit.  So he digs his fields, he plants his crop, he provides a wine press, he builds a fence around it and a watchtower to protect it.  He has made it ready for those who might come to help with the land, a sufficient land for anyone who might seek a portion.  The landowner then leases his land, so that others may help him take care of his land as he goes off to travel the world.  All that he asks in return is a portion of their harvest for the use of his land. So he leaves to another country, and around the time of his harvest, sends his servants that they might collect his payment from the tenants who leased the land.  And yet the servants are met with violence: they are beaten, they are stoned, they are killed.  So the land owner sends more servants, and they are treated in the same way.  And then the landowner does what some might believe to be foolish, sending his own son to collect his payment. For some reason he is thinking that because his son was an extension of him, because he was his heir, because he was his most special treasure, that they might treat him differently, that they might give him respect, that they might value his position – maybe they would treat him as if the land owner had come himself.  But their actions were no different, and they killed his son. Leaving Jesus with the question, “How should the landowner respond toward the tenants?” A question that hangs in the air.  Chilling to know what the answer might be.

               As we look at the allegorical message, we see that the parable represents the story between God and humanity, and how God extended grace through the presence of Christ.  The landowner is representative of God and how God has extended the land to the people of Israel.  In all honesty, we can claim that the land represents all of the earth because God has created all that has been made and called us to be stewards of all of creation.  It ultimately belongs to God, but we are called to take care of it and nurture it.  God sent God’s servants, or prophets, that we might be able to hear the word of the Lord, that we might be led to God, accept God’s grace and choose to live in connection with God.  And yet we have rejected God’s prophets, in some instances cast out, imprisoned, and killed them – all because we wanted to do our own thing. God reached out to us and we still continued to ignore the warnings of the prophets and reject the God who created us and sustains us.   So God sent God’s Son into the world that we might hear from the Word made flesh, that we might know and fully see God, and yet, the world rejected the Son that was sent, they killed him and nailed him to a cross.  We rejected both him and his teaching.  And in that way, we are like the tenants of the parable – may God have mercy on us.

                 As we look to the parable, we see that the son in this story, is a willing participant in heading toward the land – he makes no complaint – and he follows the instruction of the father even though the story would suggest he was headed to his impending death.  Surely that behavior would suggest that the son was a docile gentleman, a submissive and subservient being, a person who lets others take control without question.  But does that make Christ a docile gentleman, a submissive man? Does this declaration of Christ’s docility give us the fullest sense of our savior?

 IV. The Loving Christ

                 If we were to open our eyes to the teachings of Christ and our understanding of who Christ is, then we would see the Christological moment that is in the being of Christ.  Jesus came, not as a subservient push-over, but as a messiah who was so overflowing with love, that he offered himself up, not as a docile gentleman, but as a loving savior who loved humanity enough that he would grant us the grace of new life through the submission of his own life.  But more than that, Jesus willingly offered up himself, because he knew that even though the world would see destruction and devastation, he could take the definition of defeat for the world, and create new life and redemption.  He was able to make something out of nothing,  he was able to take what the world rejected, what the builders rejected and create from it the central cornerstone, the guiding piece that creates the foundation.  Because Jesus is the messiah, the one who brings grace and salvation to the world, that we might be reconciled back to God. We lay the foundation of our faith on this specific doctrine.  Christ is indeed the cornerstone.  So what the world may perceive as docility is a savior with transformational love, that offered of himself that we might find new life, but also a radical being that can completely change and challenge the status quo – we see this in his teachings and in his offering of himself up in the cross and his resurrection.

             Even as Christ is telling this parable, he is challenging the status quo.  He had traveled all the way to Jerusalem from Galilee and had the audacity to challenge the authority of those within the Jewish community that claim any sense of leadership because they knew the religious law.  Jesus professed a teaching that challenged the societal structure of the time: it gave the poor recognition in a world that saw them as a blemish to society, it gave freedom to the captives, it gave sight to the blind, it brought food to the hungry, it brought peace in the midst of chaos, and it restored dignity to the outcast. The teachings of Jesus functioned in love, but not just any love, an unconditional love that has the ability to transform the world around it.  You see Jesus was so much more than a docile gentleman because his message shook the foundations of society, his message challenged the oppressive structures of the Roman Empire, and his message even rattled the limited authority of the Pharisees and the chief priests.  While Jesus may have offered himself up to be sacrificed for our salvation, he traveled on a road of unconditional, transformational, agape love that has the power to change the world.  He offered himself in love, transforming the world by providing redemption and liberation from sin, oppression, and death. 

 V. Put On the Mind Of Christ

             But what does that mean for us as people of God? What does that mean for our lives and how we live out our faith.  Well first and foremost we want to be clear who Christ is, that he is the savior, the Lord over our lives, but also the one who functions in love; who fed the hungry, gave sight to the blind; challenged the oppressive powers; set captives free;  befriended the outcast; functioned in love, peace, and justice; and offered himself up on a cross in love that he might be resurrected and grant new life. You see we must stand in the firm foundation of who Christ is, because when we know Christ, when we understand Christ, when we have intimate connection with Christ then we can embody the love that is within him and put on the mind of Christ.  Jesus states that the Kingdom will be given to those that produce the fruits of the kingdom.  Jesus has begun to usher in the era of the Kingdom of God being reality here on earth, therefore we do the work, as the people of God, to bring about the Kingdom.  Therefore we want to cast off all of the things that make us like the tenants of the parable, that have rejected the teachings of the prophets and the teachings of Jesus and the very being of Jesus – as they rejected the grace that God extended.  And then we want to make ourselves like Christ.  To function in unconditional love, that we might love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, that we might do work that sets captives free, that we might do work that brings sight to the blind, that we might do work that feeds the hungry, that we might do the work that may cause us to offer ourselves in love for the sake of others, that we might do work that shows that Christ lives deep within us and has shaped us in God’s love. And then we can function as the people of God producing the fruit of the Kingdom.  When Christ moves within us and we produce the fruit of the Kingdom that is defined in love, then the world will be able to see God’s love, God’s peace, and God’s justice and lives will be transformed.

              The savior must have been a docile gentleman – The Christ? Jesus of Nazareth?  The Son of God? The stone that the builders rejected that has now become the cornerstone?  That man we know who is the savior of the world? The one who brought our redemption?  Maybe rather that docile we should classify him as loving, so loving and rooted in unconditional love that he offered himself as a living sacrifice.    The world may see docile but Jesus is a loving savior who brings justice through his teachings; the world may see docile but Jesus is the messiah who brings righteousness like an ever-flowing stream; the world may see docile but Jesus is the loving one who comforts the sick; the world may see docile but Jesus is the one who loved humanity enough  that he took the lashes, the bruises, the cuts, and the wounds – the suffering of death on a cross – that looked like defeat and changed that into new life through resurrection that provided redemption that functions in the fullness of love and God’s grace for all of the world.

            Docile he may be perceived to be, but my savior instead of being submissive to the status quo, took the expectations of the status quo and brought about what the world thought was not possible, new life and liberation from sin, death, evil, and oppression. The savior must have been a loving gentleman – to have mercy on us and extend himself as a living sacrifice that we might find new life.