Sir Gareth and Invincible Joy

Just reading Malory’s tale of Sir Gareth is enough to make your blood boil. On the Feast of Pentecost, Gareth asks King Arthur for three gifts but refuses to give his name or lineage. He is given the nick-name Beaumains because of his beautiful hands. His first request that he be fed for the next twelve months is granted, but probably not in the way he hoped.

In Camelot, the place where he should have encountered the greatest courtesy and kindness, he finds nothing but abuse. Arthur entrusts Gareth to the care of Sir Kay who declares he is “nothing but a great loafer and born of a serving wench.” Kay puts him to work in the kitchen and promises to “feed him until he is as fat as a pig.” Sir Kay throws in twelve months of constant abuse and contempt. Gareth’s beautiful hands are put to work in the kitchen long before they are allowed to hold a sword.

Things don’t improve when Gareth is given his second and third gifts: being made a knight by Lancelot and being allowed to go on a quest. The lady whose sister Gareth pledges to rescue is insulted to have a former kitchen boy serving her as a knight. Despite his gentleness and victories over every other knight, she continues to heap contempt on him, calling him a “misshapen wretch” and a “stinking kitchen knave.” Responding gently to all her abuse was a greater challenge than all the brutal warfare he encountered.

After many hard battles, victories, and wounds, Gareth convinces his lady that he is of noble birth. She repents of her cruel words. His answer is instructive: “The anger your insults inspired in me I turned against my opponents, and so overcame them more readily.” Gareth had every reason to be embittered and angry after escaping the abuse of Sir Kay only to get more abuse from the lady he had pledged to serve. He ran on anger.

The words of Gareth reveal some basic truths about anger and men (maybe women too). It is often hard for men to let go of anger because it seems to make us stronger. Anger is a seductive source of strength. Cruel or indifferent fathers, unfair coaches, or mocking peers can give a man a lifetime supply of angry energy. Men often spend the rest of their lives proving themselves to people who discounted and discouraged them.

But the tale of Gareth goes on and suggests a better way. When his lady asks for his forgiveness, Gareth says, “My lady, you are forgiven; and if formerly anger made me strong, may joy now make me invincible.” Gareth recognizes both anger and joy as possible sources of strength, but sees joy as stronger.

That joy is stronger should be the discovery of every Christian man. Because of the grace and love shown in Jesus and our adoption as children of God, all our anger should be turned to joy. The great tragedy in the church is that so many men fail to convert to this new energy source. It easy to learn all the right God talk while still burning the fossil fuel of old grudges and resentment. Anger works as a source of strength, but at a terrible cost to the soul and body of the person it fuels. Anger burns dirty and produces collateral damage to those we love. Joy burns cleaner.

The church should be helping every man to make the switch to joy. With the help of the Holy Spirit, every man should assess whether he is fueled by joy or anger. Are we driven to prove ourselves worthy? Or are we driven by the joy that Jesus is worthy and has freely loved us?

If anger once made us strong—the joy of the Lord now makes us invincible.

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About Mark

I live in Myrtle Point, Oregon with my wife Teckla and am the father of four boys. Currently I teach writing and literature at Southwest Oregon Community College. I am a graduate of Myrtle Point High School, Northwest Nazarene College, and have a Masters in English from Washington State University.
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