Posted by: mikebackup | August 11, 2009

Blessed are the meek

Matthew 5:1-12 (The Message)
You’re Blessed
1-2 When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

3″You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

4″You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5″You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6″You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7″You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

8″You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9″You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10″You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11-12″Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

Verse 5 of the Beatitudes is commonly translated as ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’. It is a very familiar verse but one that needs a great deal of reflection to get a good understanding for it in 21st Century Britain. The Message translation helps open the door to this understanding and is a good response to give to someone who asks you in conversation about what the verse means.

You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

Here the translation talks about confidence and contentment in who we are, which then enables us to receive all those wonderful things that cannot be bought. We get confidence and contentment when we are focused on loving others and living a good life before God. With that in mind we can go further in our reflections by returning to that traditional use of ‘meek’ in this verse and really focus on it. The focus will be on truly understanding what Jesus meant when that word was used.

As is so often the case with the Bible, translators have the challenge of finding words that best fit the language and understanding that they are translating for. In many cases the end result is only close to the original understanding of the word. This means the end result can mislead at times. In this particular case, the translation is very accurate. The problem though is how the modern English speaking world has distorted our understanding of the word ‘meek’.

In English ‘meek’ has a particular association with weakness whereas in Biblical Greek it didn’t. An example of how many see weakness in meekness is helpful here:

‘According to Bill Farmer’s newspaper column, J. Upton Dickson was a fun-loving fellow who said he was writing a book entitled Cower Power. He also founded a group of submissive people. It was called DOORMATS. That stands for “Dependent Organization of Really Meek And Timid Souls — if there are no objections.” Their motto was: “The meek shall inherit the earth — if that’s okay with everybody.” Their symbol was the yellow traffic light. (http://associate.com/library/www.christianlibrary.org/authors/Grady_Scott/matt5-5.htm)’

In context of this Beatitude, this needs to be changed because in many ways it couldn’t be further from the truth. We have to move our thinking on this and a light hearted visual illustration helps this.

We have to go from thinking meek as being like..

…Eeyore

To:

…Aslan

This is at the heart of understanding ‘meek’ in this verse. It has nothing to do with weakness, but everything to do with power under control. In Winnie the Pooh, lovable Eeyore is treated like a doormat and he takes it all with a dry defeated wit. Aslan on the other hand is very humble, gentle and sacrificial. Yet when others are wronged he uses his anger and immense strength to help them.

A look at the Greek word translated as ‘meek’ – ‘praus’ and the related word ‘prautes’ starts to unpack this a little more. In secular Greek writings ‘prautes’ and ‘praus’ was used to describe a soothing wind, a healing medicine, and a colt that had been broken. Note in each instance, there is power that could go out of control. A wind can become a storm, too much medicine can kill and a horse can break loose.

Aristotle defined it as the correct position between being too angry and never being angry at all. It is the quality of a person whose anger is so controlled that they are always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time. It describes the person who is never angry at any personal wrong they may receive, but who is capable of righteous anger when they sees others wronged (http://www.preceptaustin.org/titus_32.htm).

You only need to look at Jesus to see this in action:

John 2:13-22 (New International Version)

13When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!”

Mark 3.1-5
1Another time he went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

4Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

5He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Theses examples show in no uncertain terms that being meek did not mean being weak. The verses from John challenge a lot of Christians because they see anger as either a sin or losing control. How often have you got so angry at a wrong that you have made a whip and then chased people with it whilst wrecking the joint? Wording it like that makes it sound comical, but in all seriousness what would you do with the following scenario. You walk into your church where you know there’s a new group meeting. You pop your head round the door to see how they’re doing. They don’t notice you, but you see that on the tables is obscene and illegal pornographic material. What is your response? Out of the options available, seeing if they want a cup of tea and then thinking you’ll mention it the minister on Sunday is not the right one.

A on-line quote from a discussion on the issues in the verses from John offer a good reflection.

“Jesus was a kind person, but Jesus was not a nice person. Nice people don’t get crucified.” Kindness isn’t the same as niceness. Niceness can be a vice. Kindness means wanting the best for another person, even if it means we have to be ‘not nice’ in order to do that. Jesus was administering justice by cleansing the temple, and he was also looking out for the best interests of the sellers, because the sellers were doing something damaging to their souls. Sometimes we are called to speak the truth even when it’s hard to hear, and Jesus was clearly speaking (and enforcing) the truth even though it was difficult for other people to accept that truth (http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=64037).

Anger at the wrong time is wrong, but Jesus showed righteous anger. Christians tend to not show any sort of anger and everybody else knows it. Society knows Christians are far more like Eeyore than Aslan. We have to rediscover the Greek understanding of ‘meek’ and be prepared to engage in no uncertain terms at times. Biting our tongue is sometimes not what we are called to do. Society would start to sit up and notice if it were seen that Christians were really fighting hard for the injustices going on in their communities and making a big noise whilst doing it.

Whilst reflecting on this I wanted to give a good contemporary example of someone who has got righteous anger just right. So many people went through my head, but they weren’t hitting the mark. Then I bought a book in a sale and the answer hit me. This was an ordinary person who one day watched the six o’clock news and then in righteous anger literally got the world to sit up and listen. It is of course Bob Geldof. So many people knew what was happening in Africa, but could only offer well reflected comments on the situation. What was needed was someone so enraged by the injustice of it all that they went and turned all the tables over and forced a change. The anger was so real in Bob Geldof and people saw the white in his eyes and were literally shaken into action. In a famous interview during Live Aid, in which it has become an urban myth that he swore to get his point across this anger was so real:

‘People are dying now, give us the money now. Give me the money now.’

Bob Geldof back then and now, couldn’t give a Boomtown Rat whether you like or loathe him as a person, he is focused on injustice and how much that should enrage us all. In a reflection he wrote in 1985 whilst in Africa I have found no better example of true meekness. He focuses on the righteous anger and making sure that whilst there is injustice that anger doesn’t die out over time or reflection.

“…it became an exercise of will to continue. An unremitting catalogue of misery, a marathon of figures to be assimilated, reports read, proposals listened to, meetings, meetings. My mind swam with the jargon: ‘rehabilitation’, ‘long-term development’, ‘displaced persons’, ‘stimulate the rural economy’, ‘depress the local market’.
But indignation was only a short drive away. Down in the camps whole nations lay huddled, wasted and ill. What everyone in those meetings was talking about was nothing less than the African holocaust. What they were describing was the death and hunger, the humiliation and hurt of millions upon millions of people who need not suffer it. What the figures meant was the sum total of our disregard for each other. What they added up to was the cost of all this dying to us all.
In Chad alone there are over three hundred separate languages, totally distinct from one another. Some of them have gone already. I never heard them but I miss them. In these ways the lights of human genius wink out.
This journey was not some jaunt into a personal heart of darkness nor was it a dilettante’s voyeuristic dip into the pitiless pain and degradation of others. It was a trip to refocus my outrage.
In the boredom of administration, explanation and justification you begin to lose sight of the purpose and reason for your anger. Questioning and rationalisation begin to replace impulse and action. Then it is essential to recharge the batteries of grief.
The learning process was beneficial, the visible achievement satisfying, the contacts and meetings worthwhile … but who cares?
I’m not thinking about those things tonight. I’m thinking of what I saw. What I saw was humanity laid bare, degraded and shamed by its own malignant hand.” (Geldof in Africa, Bob Geldof, 12.)

By engaging with all this, the second part of this Beatitude verse makes sense. Those who are meek, who are truly faithful to loving one another, with a righteous anger ready when that is not seen have an inheritance here in this life. Being meek enables a satisfaction and sense of contentment that cannot be found elsewhere. Those without meekness miss the important things in life and no matter what they do it falls short of where they want to be and where God wants them to be.

In conclusion, A.W. Tozer once wrote, “The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto.(http://associate.com/library/www.christianlibrary.org/authors/Grady_Scott/matt5-5.htm)”


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