What Does It Mean To Be Meek?
Jesus’ Teachings Correct
Then And Now
Jesus never used the word “success” but He didn’t ignore the topic either. Rather than throw the word around superficially He dug a little deeper and referred to the emotional outcome of success, which is blessed or happy, and He mentioned several things that would produce this result.
Being poor in spirit
Being pure in heart
Thirsting and hungering for righteousness
And enduring persecution.
He also mentioned Meekness, which is what I would like to discuss here.
The interesting thing about this list is these are not qualities we associate with successful people. People described as mournful, hungry or persecuted are usually pitied not imitated. Successful people are usually viewed as clever or extraordinarily capable or just plain lucky.
Working hard isn’t really considered a factor since many people work hard without achieving notable success.
In other words, we think success (happiness) is produced by ability or circumstance and Jesus mentioned neither. Everything He said refers to character or attitude and He modeled what He preached.
Meekness is a good example. In Matt. 11:28-29 He said…
Come unto me all of you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest unto your souls.
Jesus refers to Himself as both meek, which means gentle or calm and lowly, which means humble. These, of course, are two different qualities. Meekness and humility definitely work well together but they should never be considered as one.
We will save humility for another day. I would like to focus on meekness.
And before going any further it is important to emphasize that Jesus never wasted time teaching people what they already knew. He either corrected commonly accepted, but incorrect beliefs, or presented ideas which no one had considered before.
His teaching on “Meekness” is a good example. What He said about this issue surprised everyone. Many were and still are offended and very few take Him seriously enough to make an honest effort to understand what He meant.
Being a committed follower of Jesus doesn’t always help either. The disciples were often confused and disappointed by what He taught. They were too busy trying to force Jesus into their preconceived image of Messiah to really grasp HIS meaning and were sometimes at complete odds with Him.
We do that today also. We come to Jesus with personalized notions about what He should or should not do for us. When He doesn’t play along we take our ball and go home.
The early disciples viewed Jesus as a religiously flavored political leader who would rule the world from Jerusalem. Today He is viewed as the Person most responsible for preventing: national disasters, diseases (especially in the young), disruption to personal plans or any dissatisfaction with life in general. Take your pick. Everyone fits in there somewhere.
Jesus is interested in these issues, to be sure, but His approach allows us to be engaged with the solution and not just victimized. That is the point of the Sermon on the Mount. He is teaching us how to prevent some problems, solve others and accept what we cannot change.
But as I said, being a committed follower of Jesus doesn’t always help.
His disciples weren’t exactly elated when He told them Jerusalem and the Temple would be completely destroyed. They weren’t even listening when He told them about the crucifixion. Even His resurrection didn’t seem to help much. There was no celebration party.
There were many things the disciples just didn’t understand about Jesus and for many issues the penny didn’t drop until after the ascension, in some cases quite a while after, e.g., gentile salvation.
That means, of course, that we can’t take the teachings of Jesus “in passing.” We can never assume that His intent was to verify what we already think and that is particularly true with the Sermon on the Mount.
This is a concentrated statement covering areas where most people get it wrong. This sermon is corrective not endorsing. Jesus was attempting to change our thinking not validate it.
And one topic addressed by Jesus, meekness, is not a popular issue. What He said about it flies in the face of our pet ideas.
“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
Comedians have gotten a lot mileage out of that statement and one-liners just keep on coming.
- The meek shall inherit the earth but only after the aggressive are done with it.
- The meek shall inherit the earth because they are too weak to refuse it
- The meek shall inherit the earth but by then it will be worth nothing.
- The meek shall inherit the earth as long as no one objects.
- If the meek do inherit the earth they’ll regret it.
- Only the well armed meek will really inherit the earth.
“Meekness” is most often considered a desirable attribute for other people, not one we contemplate or aspire to for ourselves. We don’t go to school to learn how to be meek, especially if the intent is to get ahead materially. And it surprises us that Jesus mentions meekness in the context of material wealth.
The meek shall inherit the earth???
Many questions come to mind in response to these words:
- What is a meek person and does anyone really want to be qualified this way?
- Are meek people really happy? Are “meek” and “happy” ideas that actually fit together?
- Is meek the only quality enabling one to inherit the earth?
- What does “inherit the earth” mean anyway?
BTW, some people are very futuristic in their definition of “inheriting the earth” but there is good reason to reject this.
In the end, they say, when God has taken control of every thing and everyone, His children will inhabit and therefore inherit the earth. But the truth is, in the end, ALL of God’s children will inhabit the earth whether they were meek or not.
Jesus mentioned persecution and hungering for righteousness, concepts that apply now. There won’t be any persecution in heaven and later, righteousness will be the rule not the goal. Now is the time to apply this sermon.
Jesus is talking about things that must be intentionally processed. Meekness will not develop involuntarily. It isn’t like breathing or the beating of your heart. It isn’t a mysterious phenomenon that occurs when we aren’t looking. Your nature will be entirely perfect when you get to heaven but for now all good qualities, like meekness, will develop only through purposeful effort.
The “earth” He is referring to, in modern terms, is property rights of some kind: intellectual, physical, monetary, entertainment, etc. It also refers to authority and power over accumulated material wealth.
And Jesus said the meek will “inherit” the earth.
We don’t usually think of an “inheritance” as something earned but it is definitely something deserved. People chosen to inherit great wealth are usually those who have proven themselves good at managing and accumulating wealth. They may not “earn” inherited wealth in the traditional sense but they do, through reliability, prove to be deserving and therefore, in a sense earn the right to it.
The truth is, whatever “inherit the earth” means, everyone would like to have a chunk. But ask them which personal attribute they prefer most and they would more likely choose sexy, macho, clever, attractive, assertive, dominant, impressive or strong not meek.
Meekness, however, does not necessarily preclude these more desirable qualities. Properly understood, it is seen as an add-on to each, making them more useful in obtaining wealth. It is a kind of overlay that tempers all of your natural attributes and makes them a little more palatable to the people around you.
- An aggressive person, through meekness, becomes more tolerable not indolent.
- A visionary, through meekness, becomes more clarifying and less emotive.
- Meekness enables dominant personalities to be less abrasive, attracting rather than repelling others.
But, it is important first of all, to talk about what meekness is not. Misconceptions abound. Meekness is not:
- A lack of determination. It describes your manner not your resolve.
- A lack of thought. Meekness and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. Jesus, the great example of meekness, very gently but clearly answered many hard questions with wisdom and insight against which there were no arguments.
- A lack of nerve. The meek will confront issues very forthrightly while being sensitive to people. They are not pacifists. Jesus modeled this when being tried by the Sanhedrin. The meek person may be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove but that doesn’t mean they are quiet as a mouse.
- A lack of motivation. The progress of a meek person can be deflected but never stopped. Jesus often changed directions in His ministry but He never stopped moving.
- A lack of development. Meek people choose their goals carefully and pursue them quietly but persistently. They make progress without a lot of noise and are not easily manipulated into or out of legitimate pursuits.
- A lack of social skill. If anything they are more approachable and easier to work with, the greatest skills of all.
- A lack of passion. Meek is not synonymous with flaccid but it isn’t always effervescent either. Becoming meek doesn’t reduce your power, it provides better control.
So, how do we describe those who are meek?
Relative to people they:
- Don’t jump to conclusions. They don’t make assumptions about the actions of others or find hidden meanings in what people say. They will ask many questions cautiously and gently before drawing a conclusion.
- Are centers for relational development. Everyone gets along with these people. One meek person of influence improves the relationships of many in the group. You can think of it this way; “Meekness makes it easier for me to work with ornery people because it makes it easier for ornery people to work with me.” One person, well meeked, raises the relational experience of everyone in the group.
Relative to circumstance they:
- Don ’t make rash decisions. They have but are not controlled by exasperating moments. Meekness (calmness) would be described not so much as patience but as pause in the face of a difficult situation.
- Are not overcome by inevitable and unchangeable setbacks. They experience but are not controlled by unrecoverable loss. They know the difference between things that can and cannot be changed and don’t bother much with the unchangeable. They learn from the mistakes of their past and apply it well to the future.
The best human example of meekness in the Bible was Joseph. He was abused by many different people and was about as unlucky in circumstance as any person could be. Yet, he meekly maneuvered his way around and through these difficulties to become one of the most powerful men in the world materially. He accumulated and controlled enough resources to save the entire world during a severe famine. He gained a lot of wealth personally also.
In a word, meekness describes your manner not your nature and Jesus is telling us that everyone can learn good manners.