Our era has moved from sound bites to 140 character twitter comments. Do you recognize any of the following: #dog-eat-dog world; #assertyourself; #standyourground; #killthecompetition; #makeyourpresenceknown.
These are just some of today’s popular expressions for encouraging people to get ahead, achieve goals and be successful in life. Such philosophy of life is ingrained from an early age because we know, deep down, that Leo Durocher was right, “Nice guys finish last!”
Then Jesus comes and messes it all up! “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” So what do we do with this conflict? I mean we’re for Jesus, right? We’re here today, we’re trying to follow. But gosh, how can we possibly live in the world today and play by Jesus’ rules, when no one else does? That’s exactly why it is important to unpack the Beatitudes and their claim on our lives.
How many remember the old Charles Atlas ads from the back of comic books? Remember, the skinny guy walking on the beach with a pretty girl. A buff guy walks up, teases him, kicks sand in his face and takes the girl. The skinny guy orders the Atlas course, buffs himself up and gets even with the bully.
Our problem with meekness is that when we think of it, we think of the skinny guy at the beginning of the ad. The dictionary and thesaurus confirm this. Webster’s defines meekness as “patient & mild; too submissive; spiritless.” And synonyms for meek include: bashfulness, doubt, fear, hesitation, insecurity, mousiness, reluctance, sheepishness, shyness, timidity, timidness, unassertiveness. In other words, “spineless.” Those aren’t going to sell lifestyle manuals!
The thing of it is, that’s not what Jesus is talking about. To begin to get at Jesus, we have to go back to the Greek culture of Jesus’ time. 300 years before Jesus, Aristotle used the same Greek word Jesus used and he called it “The Golden Mean.” It was the mid-point between extreme anger and extreme angerlessness; the perfect middle. It was the person who was completely self-controlled, who got mad at the right times and for the right reasons, and who did not lose their temper. That was the meek person.
As a matter of fact, it was also the word Greeks used to describe animals that had been tamed and taught to follow the commands of its master. It denoted one who was a perfect follower. They were “meek” animals. The movie War Horse from a few years back illustrates the point. A horse named Joey had found a home with a young boy named Albert in pre-World War I England. The story follows Joey and Albert through the war, offering vivid images of the strength and power of the animals. But it also shows how submissive they were to their handlers. They had been trained to be obedient to the rider. They were “meek” animals, full of power, but completely under control. Power under control. That’s the way Jesus uses “meek.”
Moses and Jesus, are the biblical posters boys for meek. Each had power, each displayed gentleness, but each also displayed moments of anger, at the right time. And each submitted to the ultimate power of God.
The text in numbers names Moses the “meekest man in all the earth.” You think Pharaoh would agree? Moses succeeded not because he kicked desert sand in Pharaoh’s face, but because he submitted himself to God and God’s claim on his life.
Two other times in Matthew Jesus uses the same Greek word for meek. Both times he is speaking of himself. In Matthew 11:29 he says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls.” Then in 21:5 Jesus says, “Tell the daughter of Zion, look your king is coming to you, meek, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
But would any of us call Jesus “spineless”? Not the moneychangers he ran out of the temple. Would Pilate, who witnessed first-hand Jesus standing up to oppressive power and authority? Think about it, the real master of the universe, the original transformer, who could call ten thousand angels to his aid, chose to submit himself to the Praetorian bully because he submitted himself to God’s will. He submitted to an authority outside of himself. Moses and Jesus both exhibited great strength and courage throughout their lives. And both chose to submit to God. Both changed the world. Both displayed meekness. Yet neither is the image of “spineless.”
This is to say, that being meek, being gentle, is a conscious choice. It is the choice to use any strength or courage we have for just and right ends. It is a choice to submit our lives to the One who has the power to change the world. But more than having the power to change the world, has the power to change us! James says “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of people does not work the righteousness of God.”
The problem is, consciously and unconsciously, we think the center of the universe is within us. Or rather the problem is that a billion other people hold to the same principle. When we see ourselves as the center, it is hard to find the gentle nature. We get mad when people don’t agree with us. We will get mad when people criticize us. We will become arrogant and aggressive when people call us on an issue. We will put others down and that becomes a way of life. And we put up a front that becomes a mask for the unhappiness that resides within us.
Gentleness is an outgrowth of the first two Beatitudes. Humility is admitting our need for God, mourning the brokenness within, our sins, with that godly sorrow which leads us to godly actions. Only when we can confess our utter helplessness before God can we begin to live in the gentle spirit to which Jesus calls us. We’ll begin to live with a gentle spirit only when we realize that if those same people who criticize us could hear our confessions – if they knew what God knows about us – they would have all the evidence they need for their criticism.
Seeing ourselves through God’s eyes, as God sees us, confessing our hidden sins, changes our attitudes. Confession keeps us from being angry when people attack us. Out of this changed attitude comes a spirit of gentleness, meekness. It is when we submit ourselves wholly to God. It is understanding that we are a beast who has been tamed, tamed by the Master. It is something outside of ourselves and it’s only controlled outside ourselves in a relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. It changes us. It changes the world.
Jesus says this is who inherits the earth. Jesus is quoting Psalm 37. The promise is that the gentle, the meek, inherit the earth. Think about it this way, history is full of power-grabbing bullies who sought to dominate all they could, Assyria, Babylon, Rome, France under Napoleon, Germany under Hitler, Russia under Stalin, Iraq under Hussien. They held sway for a time, but eventually their arrogance, aggressiveness and ruthlessness led to their downfall.
Think as well about sparrows and lambs. Every see them on the endangered species list? No, the ones there are lions, tigers, eagles, the majestic beasts we see as strength and power.
Power hungry people may conquer a neighborhood for a time. But they will never inherit the earth. They may destroy a lot of people and places trying to, but they will never be successful. In fact they can’t even win on a personal level. When you think about it, you know what power wielded improperly in a relationship can do. Our culture teaches us that if we can just get some power, some influence, some affluence, if we can just be in charge, we’ll find happiness. We can set the world around us, just as we wish to see it. This attitude causes real problems – in marriages, in families, in politics, in business (think about the tradition of backstabbing as you climb the corporate ladder). Enough is never enough. Such folks are never happy for they are usually the ones with ulcers.
To close, I offer five ways to demonstrate being biblically meek, gentle, in life, to offer a golden mean to the world:
1. Actively seek to make others feel at ease. Be sensitive to other’s opinions and ideas.
2. Show respect for the personal dignity of the other person. Use persuasion and kindness rather than intimidation and domination.
3. Avoid blunt speech and abrupt manners.
4. Don’t be threatened by opposition.
5. Don’t belittle or degrade or gossip about someone. Especially don’t do so when a person stumbles or falls in life. Instead grieve and pray for them.
The gentle, the meek, they are the ones who live happy lives. Power under control, submitted to the Master, God’s will will change the world for Jesus says the earth and all its fullness will be theirs.
© 2017 Gordon B. Mapes III, all rights reserved