Jesus: Resolve Tension into Identity

Life_in_Tension_web“But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Ps. 37:11 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One way the tension in our life can be resolved is for it to become who were are—an aspect of our identity. When we accept the pain of life and refuse to yield to it, in some sense we come to wear it as a badge of honor.

The third beatitude is unique to Matthew: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5 ESV). What does it mean to be meek? Meek means to: “…not [be] overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate” (BDAG 6132). Meek is like applied humility (poor in spirit)—a character trait of being humble [1]. Three verses in Matthew suggest that Jesus was meek:

  1. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29 ESV)
  2. “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” (Matt. 21:5 ESV)
  3. “And the high priest stood up and said, Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you? But Jesus remained silent.” (Matt. 26:62-63 ESV)

These three events—Jesus’ invitation to discipleship (bear the burdens that I bear), his parade into Jerusalem, and his trial illustrate his meekness. The Apostle Paul explicitly described Jesus as meek (2 Cor 10:1). The writings of the Peter and James also echo this description [2].

Neyrey (1998, 181-182) discusses honor in meekness in these terms:

“…It can indeed be understood as grounds for praise for refusing to be a victim…according to the choreography of honor challenges, the ‘meek’ person could be one who makes no honor claims (e.g. Matt 21:5), or, more likely, one who does not give a riposte [response] to challenges and does not respond in anger to insults. In this light, a ‘meek’ person disengages entirely from the typical honor games of the village…failure to seek revenge”.

The sermon on the Mount is full of allusions to meekness lived out. For example, Jesus said:

  1. “…everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matt. 5:22 ESV)
  2. “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matt. 5:37 ESV)
  3. “Do not resist the one who is evil [3]. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matt. 5:39-41 ESV)

In other words, when given an opportunity for vindication is possible through conflict, offer no response or make peace instead. The echo of identity is present here because by refusing to engage in a response, one remains true to one’s meekness rather than allowing the conflict to snatch it away.

Paraphrasing a pep talk by Jesus for the disciples, Ortberg (2012, 107) illustrates Jesus’ meekness:

“Here’s our strategy. We have no money, no clout, no status, no buildings, no soldiers…We will tell them [Jewish and Romans leaders, Zealots, collaborators, Essenes] all that they are on the wrong track…When they hate us—and a lot of them will…we won’t fight back, we won’t run away, and we won’t give in. We will just keep loving them…That’s my strategy.”

Meekness is not weakness. It steals the thunder from one’s adversary.

 

[1] “…there is little or no difference between the poor and the meek in the Psalms or Isaiah…” (Guelich 1982, 82)

[2] See for example: 1 Pet. 3:13-17 and James 1:21.

[3] Savage (1996, 57-61) offers an interesting application of this principle of not resisting evil which he refers to as “fogging”. When one is criticized, one responds by finding something in the criticism to agree with—even if only implied. This frustrates the attacker and keeps one from becoming defensive. Jesus employs a variation on this approach when asked about taxes (Matt 22:17-22).

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Ortberg, John. 2012. Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening and Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

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