Summary: Only as we learn to live with a gentle spirit can we realize the completenss of our Christianity.
The Importance of a Gentle Spirit
Aristotle was a great Greek thinker and philosopher of the fourth century B. C. For him, the virtues of life were always defined as the mean between an excess and a lack of that virtue. He saw courage as the mean between cowardliness and foolish actions. He saw generosity as the mean between stinginess and waste. And he saw meekness or gentleness as the mean between excessive anger and the inability to show any anger at all. For him, the person who was meek was one “who is angry on the right occasion and with the right people and at the right moment and for the right length of time.”
This verse takes us a step further on the ladder of happiness by considering the idea of gentleness or meekness. Christ has told us already that we need poverty of spirit. We need to recognize our need for him. Second, we are to mourn. We are to mourn over sin in our world and in our individual lives. We must have a sound social conscience.
To the above ideas we now add the idea of gentleness. Again, as before, what Jesus teaches is foreign to our normal way of thinking. He says if we are to be happy we must have a gentle spirit. Such an attitude in not prevalent in our day nor has it been in past history. The prevailing attitude among most people now and in the past is pride not gentleness. We need to look out for our interests and ourselves not that of others. We should not let others treat us unfairly without getting justice or revenge.
Those of Jesus’ day were no different. They were a proud people who were looking for a conquering Messiah who would deliver them from their enemies and restore what they assumed was their rightful place in the world. Messiah would deal with the Romans, who oppressed them at the present time. The Jews despised such oppression and looked forward to deliverance from this bondage.
Though they were God’s chosen people for a period of time, they came to believe that only they were the people of God. This is why the early missionaries had so much trouble convincing the Jews that God was now accepting the Gentiles. The Jews thought the Messiah would be theirs alone. The pride of some of the religious leaders rose to such a degree that they did not like to even admit that they had ever been in bondage to anyone.
All of the religious sects of Jesus’ day looked for the Messiah, but they all had different views of him. The Pharisees looked for a Messiah who would dramatically appear and deliver the Jews from the bondage of Rome. The Sadducees looked for a Messiah who would arrange a political compromise with the Romans. The Essenes withdrew from society into their own little groups. And the Zealots violently opposed the Roman bondage and looked for a Messiah who was a military leader.
With this in mind, we can better understand why they did not expect a Messiah who was gentle in spirit as Jesus was. They were not looking for humility and therefore did not accept or understand Jesus. They did not identify the Messiah with the Suffering Servant the prophet Isaiah spoke of. They did not look for a Messiah who would allow his rights to be violated and who would die on a cross.