The Power of Meekness in a Narcissistic World
My Struggle With Jesus’ Teaching on Meekness
I’ve been obsessing on the book of Matthew for a few months now. I started writing about it in December. After my Christmas posts, I began intensely looking at the sermon on the mount. I am in the process of praying through each of the character traits Jesus discusses in his introduction to this sermon and thinking about how they apply to me.
It sounds like a nice plan, but I got stuck on the first and third traits, because, UGH! I’m not sure I even want these two traits:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “blessed are the meek”.
Just to be completely real, these are verses that I’d rather not deal with. As I read them, I immediately thought, “Geesh, Lord, I’m just now beginning to have healthy confidence in myself. I’m starting to confront how much I let people disrespect me and to stand up for myself. I don’t have any desire to be ‘meek’ or ‘poor in spirit’ that sounds like ‘let people walk all over me’ to me, and I ain’t about that…but if you want me to do something different then you need to show me. Cause that sounds awful. How about we focus on rich in spirit and super good at snarky sarcasm? Seems like that would work better in today’s culture.”
The Cultural Context
Then this crazy thing jumped out at me “blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth”. What does that even mean?
This is one of those weird instances where you come up with freaky theology if you don’t understand the Jewish roots of Christianity.
Jesus was speaking to a group of people who were looking for political power and overthrow of a corrupt government. The Jewish scriptures (Old Testament) taught of God establishing the Jews as his people to bless all of humanity. Part of the process was making the Jews into a great nation, which included “inheriting the earth” or “owning the land”.
Jesus’ Jewish audience would have immediately understood the allusion. However, everything he said next was in complete contrast to their traditional understanding. Jesus laid out an entirely new and different plan for ushering in his kingdom. It included being poor in spirit and meek.
Was Jesus Teaching People to Be Giant Wusses?
How can being “poor in spirit” and “meek” possibly change anything? Jesus’ original audience was already poor in possessions and disrespected. How could realizing they had nothing to offer God and being meek give them power?
I know it seems absolutely counter-intuitive, but these two character traits are actually incredibly powerful. I’m learning this a little more every day.
A Bartender’s Explanation of Being Poor in Spirit
First, beginning with being poor in spirit, I wrote a lot about this last year (click here to read about my previous struggle with being poor in spirit and the beatitudes).
And believe it or not, viewing our relationship with God from this perspective is actually incredibly freeing.
I know that our pride bucks against this, but logic doesn’t.
I always quote my favorite bartender on this. She was talking about how much she hates Christians because they are so arrogant and judgmental. She looked across the parking lot and pointed at a tree. “God created trees. Think about how awesome trees are. How the f*&% do religious people think they are doing something good enough to impress the creator of trees?”
And she was completely right! Thinking that you are impressing God with your morals and rituals is absolutely the root of arrogant judgmentalism, self-repression, and oppressive leadership. However, realizing that you have nothing to offer God yet he fully loves and accepts you, gives you freedom to rest in that love and live in pursuit of honoring that love. We don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. It’s a truth we can never fully comprehend. The more we grasp just glimpses of his overwhelming undeserved love, the more we want to BE good (not just do good stuff) and the less desire we have to condemn others.
A Better Definition of Meekness
And that leads to meekness. If you know my obsession with reading the Bible like an English teacher, you know that I spend ridiculous amounts of time researching word meaning because I’m fascinated with exact definitions. The modern definition of meek, makes me cringe. If you look it up, it will say things like “submissive, easily infringed upon, timid” and a variety of other things no good American wants to ever be described as. However, the original Greek word conveyed the idea of balance and understanding of who we are.
So, the kind of meekness that Jesus taught about is incredibly hard and absolutely amazing. The Cindy Felkel definition* of meekness is: “A clear understanding and acceptance of who we are which leads us to an attitude of confidently being able to interact with people without directing the interaction to focus on building up our ego; an others-focused attitude; Antonyms: tool, narcissist, self-denigrating attention seeker.”
Bizarrely, healthy meekness comes from self-acceptance, because when you are comfortable with who you are, imperfections and all, you don’t need to make everything all about you. The more I embrace this, the more I am freed to have the conversations I really want to have with people. I can listen to a friend and truly hear their story without worrying about how I will respond or how they will view my response.
The Freedom in Confident Meekness
It’s crazy, but meekness that comes from self-acceptance allows me to be more present in all of my life. For example, a few days ago, I met a young lady through a ministry I’m involved in. She was eager to share her story with me and I listened intently. At the end of her story, I realized that I didn’t remember her name. In the past, I would have been too embarrassed to admit this to her and then I would have tried all kinds of awkward ways to figure out what her name is. This time, I was more focused on maintaining the relationship than avoiding the awkwardness of re-asking the name of someone I had just met. Interestingly, I found that owning my mistake, built trust with this young lady. We both laughed over how often we aren’t present in conversations and she appreciated that I was honest and valued knowing her name more than I valued avoiding awkwardness.
So, yeah, this obviously isn’t a life changing encounter, but the attitude that got me through it has been incredibly freeing. The more I develop confidence-based meekness, the more freedom I have to value the people around me and in turn be valued by them. For me, it’s a work in progress. I will keep writing about my journey and I’m looking forward to sharing this freedom with others.
How Meekness Could Rock Our World!
As for those early followers of Jesus who were caught in an oppressive political and religious system, I think we are still impacted by how well they developed confidence-based meekness. The early church was full of servants, slaves, social outcasts, and an array of people who were not in positions of power and influence. Yet these early followers of The Way, forever changed the way human beings are valued.
In order to fully appreciate the change that the early believers made in society, we need to grasp that the news stories that horrify civilized people today were once the normal practices of civilizations. In ancient civilizations, practices like abandoning children to die of exposure were acceptable. People could just decide they didn’t want a child and drop them off somewhere and leave them to die. Human sacrifices, rape, murder, and all kinds of violence were condoned in ancient civilizations in a way that is unimaginable to us today.
It is in that type of society that the first followers began to stand for the value of others. They rescued abandoned children and pooled their resources to care for them. They also began to teach women, which was unheard of before this time, and they empowered common people. We read excerpts from letters to these churches, ignorant of their cultural context, and are horrified by the seeming oppressiveness. But in their time, these letters were radical because of things like debating the leadership roles of women and slaves. They were openly mocked for valuing such people. Yet, their confident meekness caused Christianity to spread all over the Roman Empire.
What If We Re-Claimed Confident Meekness
Then as Christianity became the official religion of Rome, things began to get muddy. The ideas of valuing people were still there but The Way slowly became a complicated religious system no longer led by confident common people. Institutionalized Christianity had to be interpreted by professionals. The sermon Jesus preached out in the country to common folks was transformed into something that only scholars could explain. And meekness became self-deprecating dependence on a religious system rather than confidence- based empowerment of others.
With all the knowledge of the world available on our laptops, it makes sense that so many are running from the man-made religious systems built around Jesus’ teachings. I’m right there with you! But I still think there is extreme beauty in those original teachings.
Imagine if we could talk about the issues plaguing our society without needing our ego stroked or our political affiliations affirmed. What if we truly just wanted what was best for people? What if we could disagree with people without belittling them? (Well for one, they wouldn’t feel like they needed to elect narcissistic leaders to represent them…just saying!) What if all of us could consider that we might be wrong about some things? What if we cared more about valuing people than being right or gaining power?
What if you and I were truly confidently meek?
I’m crazy enough to believe, that we’d change the world again!
Blessings! Thank you for reading.
*I’m aware of how completely un-meek this line seems! It probably is arrogant. We are on this journey together my friends!