By CACKIE UPCHURCH, Director, Little Rock Scripture Study | Published September 6, 2017 | En Español
This is the fourth column in a 10-part series
If you browse the internet for the word “meek” you will likely find countless links to indicate that meekness is not the same as weakness. The very fact that this occurs so often in an internet search tells us that in our day and time the two, unfortunately, are often equated. There is an underlying assumption that it is weak to be meek. That assumption, however, does not come from the Bible.
Meekness is a characteristic of Jesus who encourages those who are burdened to come to him for rest, saying, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).
His meekness also is noted later in Matthew’s Gospel (21:5) when the evangelist quotes the prophet Zechariah as Jesus enters Jerusalem: “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass.”
Lest we are tempted to think this is only Matthew’s viewpoint, Jesus is also described by Paul as gentle (2 Corinthians 10:1), using the same root word in Greek (praus) that is used in the third beatitude, “Blessed are the meek.”
Followers of Jesus, the meek one, are counseled to be characterized by meekness or gentleness. Believers in Ephesus are urged to live in a manner worthy of their calling, “with all humility and gentleness” (Ephesians 4:2).
Similar encouragement is offered to the church in Colossae who are to clothe themselves in humility and gentleness, among other virtues (Colossians 3:12). In Galatians 5:23, meekness is one of the nine aspects of the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of believers.
So, what is meekness really? We can peel away what it is not fairly easily. It is not being mild-mannered, timid and cowering or fearful; Jesus knew when to thunder with words of justice and stand for himself and his Father against those who questioned him or tried to trip him up. He was not timid or weak at all.
To be meek is to recognize that power is not about using force but about standing in truth and in love. To be meek is to be considerate and caring in one’s dealings with others. To be meek is to acknowledge one’s place as a child of God, filled with dignity but not with pridefulness.
Meekness is not just a personal trait that we see within ourselves and bolsters our self-understanding. Meekness helps us to navigate our relationships with others. It shows up when we interact with people around us, when we determine how to treat others, and when we have a clear understanding of our relationship with God who both loves us and challenges us to put away a false sense of pride.
Most scholars acknowledge that the first beatitude that blesses the “poor” or “poor in spirit” is closely associated with this third beatitude about being meek. In fact, there is an undeniable likeness between the beatitude in Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land” and Psalm 37:11 where we read, “The poor will inherit the earth” (New American Bible revised edition) or “The meek shall inherit the land” (New Revised Standard Version).
What is the “land” that the meek shall inherit? In its original context in Psalm 37, the land or the earth referred to the land promised to Abraham and his descendants. Often the object of greed, and the territory for war with neighboring nations, this land had boundaries.
The land that the meek will inherit in the beatitudes has no boundaries because it references the kingdom of heaven, that kingdom that is among us though not yet experienced in its fullness.
If we are to count ourselves among the blessed because we are meek, we have to be willing to think differently about power and about kingdoms. We have to be willing to acknowledge that the power God wields in the world through us is not about superiority or might or cleverness.
God’s power is about strength in weakness. God’s kingdom is about simplicity and making room in our hearts for the treasures that really matter.
The meek one is not the weak one. To be biblically meek is not to bow our heads in self-doubt or false modesty but to stand tall and allow God’s claim on our lives to transform us and the world in which we live.
Is meekness a trait that is admired in our culture? Why or why not?
What examples can you give from the Gospels to demonstrate that Jesus was meek but not weak?
What kind of connection do you see between understanding meekness and understanding power?
In your experience and among your friends and co-workers, who exhibits the kind of meekness that is applauded in the Bible?
This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic May 13, 2017. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved.