Archive for February, 2020

The lectionary Gospel reading for this Sunday is Matthew 5:1-12, the beatitudes, where Jesus famously says in verse 5:

    “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

So what in God’s name was Jesus thinking when he blessed the meek and humble?

You may have heard it said, maybe by your grumpy grandpa or by some fire-eating drill sergeant you had, that “meekness is weakness.”

Weaklings — make that “meeklings” — don’t qualify for hero worship.

But Jesus was assertive in telling us that the meek are due an inheritance as great as God’s green earth itself. So maybe he was in an especially pastoral mood that day and just wanted to give some comfort to wimps.

But then, there was that time in the same Gospel of Matthew where Jesus said this about himself:

    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.” ~ Matthew 11:20

What gives here? This is the same Jesus, “gentle and lowly of heart,” who was so hacked off at the moneychangers in the Temple that he went wild and cracked a bull whip over their heads.

Well let’s consider this: if Jesus had what we today would call a role model, it was Moses — mighty strong and fearless Moses. I think it’s safe to say that Moses was very strong, more so than anyone else on the face of the earth.

But the Bible never says anywhere that Moses was “very strong.” The Bible does say that Moses “was very humble [as in meek], more so than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).

Speaking of biblical meeklings who were special to Jesus: the Apostle Paul, no shrinking violet he, had this to say in Colossians 3:12:

    As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

(My italics for emphasis.)

And oh by the way, there is that line in the epistle of James 3:13 in which the brother of Jesus wonders “who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.” (Italics for emphasis.)

How do we reconcile the power and might of Jesus and other biblical greats who suggested that meekness is good? Being meek will make you a doormat and people will walk all over you, won’t they?

* * *

We Christians live in the tension of paradoxes. The Catholic philosopher G.K. Chesterton, who wrote a book about biblical paradox, said this about courage:

    ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers… This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it.

    A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.”

Jesus was powerful and strong but, paradoxically, he had a meek-and-mild side. He cried three times in his adult life that we know of, and no doubt wept many more times. In weeping, he clothed himself in meekness.

Ultimately, Jesus used meekness to do his work on the cross.

As for Paul, if you read what he had to say in his mostly angry letter to the Galatians, you don’t get the picture of a man “clothed in meekness.” Yet at the end of the letter he listed gentleness as one of the nine fruits of the spirit, along with the related fruits of peace and patience and kindness and goodness.

* * *

A world-famous horse lover named Robert Redford, who is also famous for acting and filmmaking, produced a much-acclaimed movie last year called “The Mustang.” I happened to catch it late one night recently on cable TV.

“The Mustang” is about a hardcore prison inmate named Roman. Roman is in in the running for The Angriest Man on God’s Earth.

When we first meet Roman, he’s 12 long years into a sentence for domestic assault against his wife. He’s so bad to his own 16-year-old daughter in her visits that she urges him to sign emancipation papers (which he refuses to do).

There is a scene in which Roman’s anger-management therapist is counseling him on whether he’s ready to re-enter the general prison population after a long stint in solitary. The therapist floats the idea of assigning him to an outdoor rehab program that involves inmates training wild horses the are then sold at auctions to law enforcement agencies.*

When Roman, played with scary intensity by the terrific actor Matthias Schoenaerts, tells the therapist “I’m not good with people,” he leaves no doubt.

Here is the crux of the rest of the story: Roman, none too enthused about taking up with wild horses in the desert, is transferred to the Nevada prison with its rehab program. There, he is transformed from a violent wretch to a gentle spirit, bonding with a certain horse that was just as angry and seemingly untamable as Roman himself.

I’ve never been much of a horseman, and yet growing up in Texas I was on and around enough horses to be fascinated by how such big, powerful beasts can stand so perfectly still in perfect meekness, so gentle that a child can ride and guide one.

Strength and meekness do not negate each other. Like so many paradoxes, they fit together like a loving horse and a loving rider.


*(“The Mustang” is based on a real and very successful rehab program aimed at taming horses and taming violent inmates at prisons in a half-dozen western states. See the Rotten Tomato reviews here.)

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