Blessed are the Meek

Blessed are the Meek

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Luncheon for the Soul, Wednesday, July 13, 2016, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia

Welcome

Good afternoon. Welcome to Luncheon for the Soul. My name is Stephen Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor from Centreville Presbyterian Church and a Christian author. Today we continue our study of the Beatitudes.

In the Beatitudes, we see that the promises of God are anchored in his unchanging character and we know this because God remains forever meek.

Invocation

Let’s pray.

Heavenly father. Thank you for your presence among us this morning. We are grateful that your word still moves our hearts and stimulates our minds. Make your presence especially obvious in this moment and in this place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears to listen. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Scripture

Today’s scripture lesson comes from the Gospel of Matthew 5:5. This is the Third Beatitude and a part of the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. Listen for the word of God.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5 ESV)

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

A famous confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees begins with a difficult question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matt 22:17) If Jesus answers yes, the Hebrews will be mad at him. If he answers no, he will have legal difficulties with the Romans. This question does not have an obvious answer.

Jesus answers:

“Show me the coin for the tax.  And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said, Caesar’s. Then he said to them, Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:19-21)

In other words, Jesus redefined the question and challenged them to deepen their faith in God—in whose image they were created—and not to focus on political things that they cannot change.

The story of the response of Jesus to the difficult question is an example of a concept known by experts as fogging.[1] Fogging is an answer that responds only to the part of the question that you agree with. In this example, Jesus continues the conversation about taxes but he changes the focus to the coin used to pay the tax. The coin offers an opportunity to give a lesson about God without falling to a political trap and without appearing defensive in front of his opponents.

This last point is important for us because every day we talk with difficult people and fogging is a technique to remain civil during a conflict when it is much easier to become emotional or to feel the stress. It is useful because when we have an appropriate answer to a difficult person, we are not victims; we are not defensive; we are Christians that respect and utilize the wisdom of Christ. It is also an example of how to be meek like Jesus in our everyday life—meek is not weak or as Jesus said:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5)

Context

The Third Beatitude appears only in Matthew and in the Greek, the language of the Old Testament, meek means: “… Not [being] overly impressed with a sense of self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate” (BDAG 6132). Meek is like the character of a person who applies the concept of “poor in spirit”, which we find in the First Beatitude, and which is shown not less than three times in Matthew:

  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)
  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) [2]
  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)

These three events—the invitation of Jesus to be disciple, his humble entrance into Jerusalem, and his silence during his trial—demonstrate the humility of Christ. The humility of Christ is also observed in the writings of the Apostles—Peter, James, and Paul.

From all of this evidence, it is obvious that humility is very important to Jesus in the New Testament. But, no one normally wants to be humble—we have to learn to be humble.

Is it possible that God also learned to be humble? (2X)

Analysis

This curious question over the God changes during the period of the Bible is very important in today’s theological conversations because if God changed during the history of the Bible, then he can change in our time as well.

I will be very brief. Here I will use an argument from the law and the prophets, like Paul and many other rabbis.

Point One: God acts as someone very meek in spite of the sin of Adam and Eve.

In the Books of the Law we see that God looks meek and gentle. For example, in Genesis before “God sent him [Adam and Eve} out from the garden of Eden” (Gen 3:23), “God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3:21) like a mother prepares her kids for the first day of school. God had every right to zap them both and create new people, but he did not do that. He did not do that because he had compassion on them and made provision for them, in spite their sins and against his own rights and power. In this context, God appears meek.

Point Two: God is humble like his good friend, Moses.

Here in the Books of the Law, only Moses is described as humble, as we see in the Book of Numbers, where it is written:

“Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” (Num 12:3)

But, many times friends share very similar personal characteristics. Consequently, the implication is that probably God is also meek like his very good friend, Moses.

Point Three: The Books of the Prophets describe the Messiah as meek.

The Books of the Prophets are all the books of the Old Testament that are not among the Books of the Law. Here we find that humility is a characteristic expected of the Messiah. The most famous example was cited above in Matthew and comes from the Prophet Zachariah:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech 9:9)

It is obvious also in the prophets that humility is a characteristic of God reflected in his people, as an important part of his image. For example, we see in the Psalms:

“He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (Ps 25:9)

And we find in the Psalms our Third Beatitude, in so many words:

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

Therefore, we see in the law as in the prophets that God was meek and he did not need to learn to be meek because he was already meek in creation. This is very good news because the character of God does not change over time and is immutable yesterday, today, and always.

The implication is that, just like the character of God is immutable and does not change, the Bible is also reliable and the promises of God are good forever. Thanks be to God!

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Almighty Good, Beloved Son, Ever-present Spirit, we give praise because you do not change and offer your gracious love and consolation in painful times and times of loss. Cleanse our hearts of evil passions that lead us to sin and lead us to violence against other people. Give us a character that is deep in your wisdom. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

 

[1]  See: Savage (1996, 57-62).

[2] Also: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zec 9:9)

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.>.

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

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18. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webAlmighty Father,

We give thanks for the gift of faith and the call into ministry which reaches out to our family, friends, and beyond. Guard our hearts in times of weakness, hardship, and temptation. Keep our mind sharp that we offer you our praise with clarity, coherence, and dedication, not tainted by vain desires, cultural confusion, or subtle idolatries. Grant us a spirit of meekness, a spirit of humility seated deeply in our character—not loosely held, superficially worn, or overshadowed by cherished sins. Place in us hearts eager to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness. Give us the strength to provide a sacrificial hospitality to those around us. In the face of suffering, make your Holy Spirit especially visible that we would not fail in our ministry due to temptations to be relevant, powerful, or spectacular in the eyes of those in our care. In the strong name of Jesus Christ, Your Son and our Savior. Amen.

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15. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webHumble Lord,
Help us to rest in you—to bear the burdens that you bore, to exhibit the grace that you exhibited, And to extend the peace that you extended. Clear our cluttered minds, still our restless hearts that we might—refuse to be victims, refuse to point the finger, and resolve to roll up our sleeves.  Heal us of our anxieties, restore us to the person you would have us be that our identity would reside in you alone—through the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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Jesus: Lead Out of Meekness

Life_in_Tension_web“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:17 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Meekness is an aspirational character trait and the mark of a natural leader. Tension arises within us because perfection in meekness is not within our grasp. Tension arises between us because leadership involves care and defense of the weaker among us. Tension arises with God because God pushes us to grow pushing our limits while our meekness forces us to live with the pain that growth entails.

Leadership Temptations. The unique thing about meekness is that it is invisible until tested. After his baptism, Jesus: “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2 ESV) The devil posed 3 tests:

1. Turn a stone into bread;

2.  Become my vassal; and

3.  Throw yourself down (Luke 4:4,7,9).

What is surprising about this story is that Jesus does not remain silent. He has been fasting and wandering the desert. Still, his answers are descriptive, not hauty. Jesus responds to the devil by citing 3 verses taken from the Book of Deuteronomy [1]. Nouwen (1989, 7-8) sees these tests as common leadership temptations. Namely, the temptation to be relevant, powerful, and spectacular [2]. He (82) observes that: “Christian leadership…is not leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the sufferign servant of Good, Jesus Christ, is made manifest.” In a word, Nouwen sees the Christian leader as meek, like the one who sent him.

Tension Within. The Apostle Paul talks about pursuing “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Tim. 6:11 ESV) He does not claim to have succeeded in obtaining them. Instead, he talks about inner tension:

“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom. 7:18-19 ESV)

If Paul as an apostle of Jesus Christ cannot in his own power attain all the gifts of the spirit, including meekness, then we also must recognize that the journey of faith will have its ups and downs, and not dispair when we cannot attain perfection in Christ.

Tension With Others. A common complaint among pastors is that their job is 24-7. They are always on duty and called to be a good example. It is like living in a transparent tent in the middle of a parking lot. I always feel compelled, for example, to drive the speed limit when I am wearing a clerical collar—a heavy cross to bear living in the Washington Metro area! People are watching. Pastor, are you really meek?

A friend of mine asked: Isn’t meekness a personal attribute? How can you be meek when you are responsible for other people? One response is that Christian leadership is sacrificial. During his time in prison, for example, Bonhoeffer continued to function as a pastor being allowed to counsel other immates, even the guards (Metaxas 2010, 448). Sacrificial leadership can be painful and, yet, may never be appreciated. Several levels of meekness may be required.

Tension With God. Sacrificial leadership can also lead to suffering, which is never fun. Jesus was meek. But on the cross he also had a moment of dispair crying: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV) Yet, in this moment of dispair he cites Psalm 22 which later ends in praise: “You who fear the LORD, praise him!” (Ps. 22:23 ESV)

We can be meek in the face of suffering, in part, because we know that the future is in Christ—we know that suffering is not the end of the story. The implication of the resurrection of Christ is that we too will share in his victory. As the Apostle Paul writes: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55 ESV)

[1] “…man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut. 8:3 ESV) “It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” (Deut. 6:13 ESV) “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test…” (Deut. 6:16 ESV)

[2] Scazzero (2006, 75-78) phrases these temptations more personally as the temptation to perform, to possess, and to be popular.

REFERENCES

Metaxas, Eric. 2012. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1989. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Scazzero, Peter. 2006. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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Jesus: Meek is the Pastoral Gene

Life_in_Tension_web“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)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Meekness is the pastoral gene. “Freedom lies in obedience to our calling.” [1]

We know this not only from the words of Jesus, but his disciples and those that followed. For example, Jesus says:

“And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matt. 10:42 ESV)

The Greek word used here for disciple, μαθητής, means: “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice” (BDAG, 4662). Here the expression, “little ones”, which is used six times in the New Testament (NT) [2], refers not to children but to young believers (or seekers). Consequently, disciples are not just Jesus’ students but are instructed to teach young believers with meekness—to have a servant attitude in teaching. Teaching is one activity that pastors do all the time—they teach by what they say and what they do.

The Apostle Paul paraphrases Jesus’ command and makes this meekness an explicit requirement for church leaders. For example, he writes:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Tim. 2:24-26 ESV)

Elsewhere Paul includes meekness and gentleness in his lists of the fruit of the spirit. [3]

This same sentiment is echoed by James, Jesus’ brother, and leader of the church in Jerusalem when he says: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (James. 3:13 ESV) The Apostle Peter admonishes us to practice apologetics also with meekness: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV) But as Bridges (1996, 180) observes, citing George Bethune: “No grace is less prayed for, or less cultivated than gentleness.”

Interestingly, meekness is cloaked in one of the most famous images of Christ: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11 ESV) The image of the Good Shepherd is, in fact, a Messaic image prophesied by Isaiah in one of his Servant Song passages:

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isa. 40:11 ESV)

The Apostle John pushes this metaphor even further in the Book of Revelations where the shepherd is also a lamb (Rev 7:17).

In the Gospel of John’s great pastoral passage, the risen Christ asks Peter three times if he loves him and to each of Peter’s responses he asks Peter to care for his sheep (John 21:15-18). Just like he does with Peter, Jesus bids us, as disciples, to care for his flock and to do it with gentleness clothing ourselves with meekness.

 

[1] Colson and Fickett (2005, 30)

[2] Matt. 10:42; 18:6, 10, 14, Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2.

[3] e.g. Gal 5:19-23; Col. 3:12-14.

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.>.

Bethune, George. 1839. The Fruit of the Spirit. Reiner Publications.

Bridges, Jerry. 1996. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Colson, Charles and Harold Pickett. 2005. The Good Life. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers.

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God’s Meekness Speaks Volumes

Life_in_Tension_web“Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” (Num. 12:3 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The idea of tension resolving into identity suggests a learning process. This is because meekness is not a natural state; rather, meekness is a fruit of the spirit [1]. If meekness is a fruit of the spirit and Jesus is meek, does that imply that God Himself learned to be meek? What can we say from the law and the prophets about Jesus fulfilling this Beatitude? [2]

The Law. Meekness is not directly mentioned very often in the Books of the Law. However, meekness is indirectly manifested in the narratives. The image of God in the Books of the Law is that of creator, covenant maker, and, with Noah, destroyer by means of flood. The primary direct reference is to Moses who has an especially intimate relationship with God (Num 12:3).

As creator, God is pictured as a sovereign issuing decrees. The first decree is: “And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.” (Gen. 1:3 ESV) We are not told how light came to be, only who decreed it be done. God is verbal, but he is not chatty. His next statement is a declaration: “And God saw that the light was good.” (Gen. 1:4 ESV) He does not brag; he simply observes. While his ability to create illustrates God’s power, God could also be said to be meek—“…not [being] overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate” (BDAG 6132). Creating is “no big deal” for God.

As covenant maker, God is objective and thoughtful, not vengeful and domineering. The covenant with Adam, for example, is mostly implicit. Basically, God creates Adam and Eve, gives them a mandate (be fruitful and multiply), sets them in a garden, and leaves only one limitation—don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When Adam and Eve disobey God’s limitation, he does not kill them on the spot, as expected, and create another couple. Instead, God punishes (curses) them and sends them out of the garden. But before they go, like a mother preparing her child for the first day of school, “God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” (Gen. 3:21 ESV) While God was perfectly in his right as covenant maker to be harsh with Adam and Eve, in fact, he treated them gently—another indication of meekness.

As destroyer, God sends a flood to wipe out humanity and every living thing—almost. The writer of Genesis records God’s motivation as follows:

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them. But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.” (Gen. 6:5-8 ESV)

What we see here is a reluctant destroyer. God is moved by grief over sin to send the flood. This is interesting because we expect anger, not grief, as the motive for sending the flood—not the image of a wrathful God that some might advance. And God is careful to spare Noah, his family, and a pair of each of the animals. The ark with Noah, his family, and the animals is a kind of prototype of the remnant of Israel later spared during the Babylonian exile. This care of the remnant is another example of a meek God choosing to exercise only a portion of his rights, like a parent offering discipline and not like a judge imposing penalties.

From this brief review of the Book of the Law, we can argue that God does not need to learn to be meek—he is already meek.

The Prophets. Meekness and humility are widely mentioned in the Books of the Prophets, especially Isaiah and Psalms, and appear in important Messianic passages. Guelich (1982, 82) observes that: “there is little or no difference between the poor and the meek in the Psalms or Isaiah”. For example,

  1. “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD… but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” (Isa. 11:1-5 ESV)
  2. “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (Ps. 25:9 ESV)
  3. “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Ps. 37:11 ESV)
  4. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech. 9:9 ESV)

The association of meekness with Messianic passages suggests that meekness is understood by the writers of the prophets to be an important property of God’s image.

Fulfillment. Meekness appears in the Old Testament has both a character attribute of God and a kind of solidarity of God with his people. Elliot (2006, 123) notes that “Israel’s God was emotionally stable” and his attribute of meekness typifies this stability.  Theologians use the term, immutability, which means that God does not change [3]. Thus, when Jesus describes himself as gentle or meek (Matt. 11:29), a Jewish audience might rightly hear such words as a Messianic claim.  The stability of God’s emotions and character is part of his transcendence. It implies that there is only one, objective truth.  Why? [4]

Meekness is a fruit of the spirit for us, but for God it is just who he is.

[1] “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:19-23 ESV)

[2] Note: Matt 5:17.

[3] “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Mal. 3:6 ESV) Horton (2011, 235) writes: “Building on a patristic consensus, Thomas Aquinas argued that God is actus purus (’pure act’), which means that there are no potentialities in God. Complete and perfect in himself from eternity to eternity, God has no potential that is not already fully realized. God cannot be more infinite, loving, or holy tomorrow than today. If God alone is necessary and independent of all external conditions, fully realized in all of his perfections, then there is literally nothing for God to become.”

[4] One God, one set of physical laws to the universe, one objective truth.

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.>.

Elliott, Matthew A. 2006. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel.

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

Horton, Michael. 2011. The Christian Faith: A Systemic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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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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