Summary: 1. Meekness means we do not retaliate. 2. Meekness means we live without fear. 3. Meekness comes with a blessing.
The famous atheist Frederick Nietzsche, who coined the phrase “God is dead,” once said, “Assert yourself. Care for nothing except yourself. The only vice is weakness and the only virtue is strength. Be strong. Be a superman. The world is yours if you work hard enough for it!” Hitler read Nietzsche and decided to become that “superman,” and we all know how that turned out. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Two very different ideas. Although the first words are from an atheist, and the last quote from the teaching of Jesus, it often seems that Christians go by Nietzsche’s philosophy rather than Jesus’ teaching. Many Christians live as though the only virtue is strength. Jesus never talked about strength, but he often spoke of meekness.
I looked up the definition of meekness in the dictionary, and one of the definitions was: “deficient in spirit and courage.” That is not Jesus’ idea of meekness. It is not about being weak, it is about not reacting with aggressiveness and malice. The other definition I found comes closer. It was, “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.” Patience is not something I am very good at. But I really came up short when I looked up the definition in a Greek-English lexicon which defined meekness as: “gentleness of attitude and behavior, in contrast with harshness in one’s dealings with others.” I’ve never been good at the gentle thing either. That’s not an excuse, it is a confession.
It is very difficult to follow the teachings of Jesus, but this is also what makes him so attractive to me. What a challenge to work toward being transformed into the image of Christ. It takes humility and surrender to the will and heart of God on a moment by moment basis. We value strength and dignity, Jesus values meekness and humility.
On the Thursday of Holy Week this year, the queen of England will preside over the Royal Maundy Service at Guildford Cathedral. It is a service held each year on the Thursday before Easter, and the British monarch presents gifts of money to the poor. The royal website says, “The tradition of the Sovereign giving money to the poor dates from the 13th century. The Sovereign also used to give food and clothing (later changed to a gift of money), and even washed the recipients’ feet — this varied from Sovereign to Sovereign, the last Monarch to do so was James II.” It must have been quite a site to see royalty in the humbling posture of foot washing. It is not surprising that this element of the ceremony was dropped several hundred years ago. Although now the Queen would not risk much except her dignity by washing the feet of the poor, in more politically charged times even the smallest display of meekness and humility could place one’s political power in jeopardy. It is unfortunate that we sometimes see meekness as weakness and consider it a disposable quality, but we seldom see power as disposable. The Bible says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). This is to be a character quality of Christians because we follow the model of Christ. Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart.”
What does this look like in the life of Jesus, and what does it look like in our lives? The first point is: Meekness means we do not retaliate. In other words, we do not strike back. Well then, what do we do with the Old Testament which says, “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Exodus 21:24)? Christians often discuss this, and frankly some seem more like Old Testament followers than New Testament Christians. Is the God of the Old Testament different from the God of the New Testament? Because Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:38-41). Which biblical teaching do we follow? Jesus obviously called this Old Testament law out of date and introduced a new law. So how do we understand this? Did God change his mind? Are there two different Gods — one in the Old Testament and one in the New? No, God has not changed, the human race has changed. It’s like this: As a child grows and matures, so the human race has had to grow and mature. (This is not evolution, but the spiritual, emotional and sociological development — the maturing of the human race.) What is tolerated at one level of maturity is not tolerated at the next. You learn to crawl and then you learn to walk, and then you learn to run. You don’t expect an infant to run, you are just glad when they can sit up. At the time the Old Testament law was given about all the human race could handle was this law. This Old Testament law is actually a good law, because the law of world was, “A head for an eye, and a jaw for a tooth.” The law of eye for eye and tooth for tooth actually limited what could be done in retaliation. It said you could not go beyond what was done to you and escalate the violence. In spite of this, we still have trouble following this Old Testament law, let alone the teachings of Jesus.