“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5)
I have always struggled a bit with this verse. The word “meek” conjures up images in my head of a timid, quiet, submissive, little mouse of a person, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose; someone who is basically a human doormat. Not really someone who I aspire to be, if I’m perfectly honest.
So, imagine my surprise (and relief) when I discovered that this is not the type of person Jesus is referring to in this verse. Instead, he is talking about gentleness and the way in which we respond to things; to people; to injustices.
The Passion translation writes this verse as “what blessing comes to you when gentleness lives in you! For you will inherit the earth”. It points out in its footnote that the Aramaic word used for meekness is “Makeetheh” which means gentle and flexible. Many theologians have also noted out that the Greek word used here is ‘Praus’, which means mild or gentle. They also point out that ‘Praus’ was used to define a horse trained for battle, stating “Wild stallions were brought down from the mountains and broken for riding. Some were used to pull wagons, some were raced, and the best were trained for warfare. They retained their fierce spirit, courage, and power, but were disciplined to respond to the slightest nudge or pressure of the rider’s leg. They could gallop into battle at 35 miles per hour and come to a sliding stop at a word. They were not frightened by arrows, spears, or torches. Then they were said to be meeked.”.These stallions became submissive, but certainly not spineless. They embodied power under control, strength with forbearance. Neither “Makeetheh” nor “Praus” are relating to weakness, but rather the way power is handled – strength under control, specifically God’s control.
So what does power under God’s control look like? An article on theologyofwork.org, suggests the following:
- “It is the refusal to inflate our own self-esteem”, but instead to see ourselves as we are, and to accept our strengths and limitations for what they truly are, rather than constantly trying to portray ourselves in the best possible light. Romans 12:3 warns “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”. Even in a broken world, those who recognise their true strengths and weaknesses can find peace by living realistically.
- “It is a reticence to assert ourselves for ourselves” – to exercise power but for the benefit of all people, not just ourselves. The attitude of gentleness is counter-cultural. Aggressive attitudes are common, especially in the workplace: arrogance and power will get you somewhere in business, but not in personal relationships. No one wants arrogant, self-seeking friends. Colossians 3:12 – 13 says “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone…”. It is not saying that when we are faced with injustice, or when someone has wronged us we must simply turn the other cheek, rather it’s asking us to respond from a place of love, grace and gentleness, instead of anger and aggression. To respond with strength under control. As John Gills says in his commentary, “don’t envy or retaliate, exercise patience in the face of adversity”.
There’s a saying “You will catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than a whole bucket of vinegar”: while we may fear the angry and do what they tell us; the ones we truly respect are the ones who treat us and others with dignity and gentleness.
Our greatest role model in the Bible (and actually of all time), is Jesus. In Matthew 11:28 – 29, Jesus describes himself as ‘meek’: “‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” . I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t describe Jesus as timid, weak or cowardly! His greatest display of ‘meekness’ was on the cross. Abuse was being hurled at him, but rather than respond in anger, he chose to endure it, because he knew that remaining on the cross would benefit all people, of all generations. He chose to suffer insult, rather than use his power to cause others injury. Which is a big part of that “power under control” – the attitude of knowing that you CAN do something, but you choose not to. 1 Peter 3:14 – 16 says “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
If we’re honest, our initial response when we are wronged or challenged is one of defence. We can become incredibly defensive, very quickly, and lash out. It’s very easy to respond that way, but that verse in 1 Peter 3 is telling us to do the opposite. To almost stop and take a breath before responding, so that we are able to do so with the gentleness and respect God asks of us. Are there perhaps areas where you need to practice strength under power, and opt for a more meek approach to situations?
As an introvert, my default is to err the quieter side of a response. So my challenge to myself will be to try to be bolder in standing up for injustices, and to lean on God for help to do that well. Are there areas where you need to retain you courage and power and stand up for what is right by God?
Psalm 37:3 says “Keep trusting in the Lord and do what is right in his eyes. Fix your heart on the promises of God and you will be secure, feasting on his faithfulness.”