Sometimes it seems to me that there are two Jesuses depicted in the Gospels: gentle, meek Jesus and passionate, hard-truths Jesus. Gentle Jesus endured indignities, sacrificing His own rights, while hard-truths Jesus spoke up to set people straight, whether they were Pharisees or His closest friends. As a Catholic woman, I’ve struggled to reconcile the two and determine what these different sides of my Savior’s personality mean for me and my Christian walk. The more I study, the more I’m gradually making sense of it all.
A Holy Balance
When I was younger, my devotion to Christ was focused solely on His tender side. I treasured images of Him snuggling lambs and babies, soothing the hearts of repentant sinners. Throughout the Gospel narratives, I saw Him living out the Sermon on the Mount, spreading blessing through meekness. I mean, this is a guy who wouldn’t even break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick (Matthew 12:20). Picturing Jesus this way, I sought to model my own behavior after how I perceived His: offer kindness to all, don’t make a fuss, and definitely don’t step on anyone’s toes.
Eventually, however, this extreme understanding of gentleness landed me in therapy for an inability to set boundaries with certain people in my life. It was during a counseling session that I finally awoke to the reality of another side of the Lord.
“What did Jesus do when He saw the moneychangers in the temple?” asked my therapist. “Did He stand by and watch, maybe quietly asking if they wouldn’t mind going outside?”
Of course not! Jesus had strong words and actions for the bald-faced disrespect of His Father’s house. He threw the moneychangers out of the temple, overturning their tables.
How could these two disparate attitudes of meekness and sternness coexist? Eventually it hit me: Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb. His gentleness and forthrightness struck the perfect balance because, after all, He Himself was perfect – divine. But how can I, a fleshly human living out my 21st century life, do the same? When do I play the lion, and when do I play the lamb?
Following Christ, the Lion and the Lamb
Looking deeper into the times Jesus acted tenderly versus the times He acted more forcefully, patterns begin to emerge. Most importantly, whatever He did, Jesus always operated from the motivation of love. Sometimes love called for Him to lay His healing hands upon the destitute saying, “Go in peace, your sins are forgiven.”
Other times love required Him to tell His best friend, “Get behind me, Satan.”
If I seek to act in love, I too will need to show tenderness and frankness in different situations—or even, perhaps, at the same time. I personally have experienced the deep impact of difficult truths delivered gently.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus’ humility also didn’t imply ignoring His own needs. He wasn’t afraid to ask for—and take—what He required. Though He gave graciously of Himself day in and day out preaching and healing the masses, when He needed time alone, He took it. In preparation for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, He asked for and received a donkey to ride and an upper room in which to eat the Passover meal. He wasn’t rude. He spoke up about His needs and obtained them. This framework is one I can feel good about emulating in a gentle way.
Similarly, Jesus displayed justified anger. Unrepentant sin and hypocrisy were common targets. Demons giving Him attitude? They’re in for a harsh rebuke. Fig tree not producing? That fig tree’s got to go. Christ always stood up for truth without hemming and hawing. As a Catholic in a world often unfriendly to my faith, this aspect of Christ’s blend of kindness and candidness may be the hardest to follow. I know I’m called to speak out against lies and injustice in our world. I pray for the courage to do so more frequently, and in a loving way.
Gentleness and bravery, meekness and honesty, tenderness and zeal. Jesus is the perfect example of how these qualities do not have to be in opposition. The further I get in my Christian life, the greater my desire to find the Christ-like balance of both.
How has Christ been both the lion and the lamb in your own life?
Written by Sarah Garone. You can find out more about her here.