Blessed Are the Meek?
by Tim Mooney
Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the meek? Today is just the opposite. Today it’s all about strength, speed, aggression, mastery, power, and the exercise of control over your opponent so you can win The Super Bowl. Yes, it’s Soup-er Bowl Sunday. Each player has worked so hard to put together the strongest, most powerful, flavorful ingredients, in a perfect balance, in order to bowl right over your defenses, so you will wave the white flag and say, “That is the best soup I’ve ever had in my life! You’re the winner of the Central Presbyterian’s 2020 Soup-er Bowl!” The Super Bowl is all about amazing commercials, and that was a commercial for the Soup-er Bowl taking place immediately following worship, where you get a chance to taste the amazing soups created by our youth!
Yes, there’s also this other Super Bowl going on today that is also about strength, speed, aggression, mastery, power, and the exercise of control over your opponent.
So why am I talking about “Blessed are the meek” today, of all days? Well, in that well-known text from Numbers 12:3 – which most of you are probably reading as a sleep aid – it reads: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth.” Moses was meek? He stood up to Pharaoh, argued with God, and led the stubborn Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years! That does not fit the definition of “meek” that we find in the dictionary: 1) patient, long-suffering, submissive in disposition or nature; humble; 2) spineless or spiritless; compliant.
The word meek conjures up images of wimpy, milquetoast, weak, or flabby. We don’t want to be milquetoast. And we shouldn’t, because that’s not the biblical meaning of the word meek. The Greek understanding of meek is rooted in the process of breaking-in horses. Imagine taking an untamed, powerful horse – filled with passion, spirit, and energy – and getting all that under control. The Greek understanding of meek carries with it the idea of mastering this fire, energy, passion, power for good use.
Aristotle said that the meek (praus) person is one who has the virtue of the mean between two extremes. On a continuum, with recklessness on one end, cowardice on the other, the right virtue in the middle would be courage. This is how Aristotle defined meekness in relation to anger. The meek person is the one who feels anger on the right grounds, against the right person or institution, in the right manner, at the right moment, for the right amount of time, for the ultimate good. It’s using anger righteously. Jesus in the temple, overthrowing the money-changers’ tables, is a prime example.
Meekness is knowing how and when to exercise power, and what kind of power to use. It’s the king or queen who could destroy their enemies, but chooses to be merciful, chooses to be lenient, chooses restraint. Meekness combines a sense of gentleness and strength. It’s not weakness, not indifference, but strength with compassion.
The best modern day illustration of this point comes from a very popular sport. I wonder what that sport might be? Yes, football. Imagine all the players lining up for the first play. All these big, burly men in shoulder pads, with all their fire, aggressiveness, passion – under perfect control, ready for the snap. But it’s more than that. When the ball is snapped, meekness is demonstrated in the way each player responds appropriately to what is happening in the moment for the length of the play.
Meekness is knowing how and when to exercise power, and what kind of power to use.
The word “meek” has a slightly different meaning in Jewish history. It meant being humble, lowly. It meant hearing and accepting God’s guidance and strength when courageously facing the situation at hand. The Hebrew sense of being meek points to obedience, which comes from the root word, “to hear.” The Greek sense of being meek, points to power under control. Put those two together, and we have a responsive, Spirit-controlled life, God-filled life.
With this bigger understanding, we can see why Moses is described as “very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth.” I used to think Moses was self-effacing. At the burning bush, God said, “Bring my people out of Egypt.” Moses said, “I don’t think I’m your guy. My brother Aaron is a much better speaker. Pick him.” They argued back and forth seven times, before Moses finally said “Yes.” But at the end of Exodus, after the Golden Calf incident, God says, “I’ve had it with these people! I’m done with them!” But Moses displays a remarkable meekness as we’ve come to see it. He says, in effect, “You made a covenant with them. They failed to uphold their part, but don’t fail to uphold your part.” This is a moment of meekness, a moment of spiritual poise. He called God back to God’s promise.
You know who else was meek? Jesus. He got angry, he stood up to the religious leaders, he threw people out of the temple. Yet he defined himself as “meek and lowly in heart.” Meekness is not wimpy, but God-controlled, God-filled. It is power, wielded by love, for the good.
Two stories, one ancient, one recent.
In the Gospel of Mark 1:40, it says Jesus has compassion on a leper and heals him. But in the earliest extant text, it says Jesus was angry. Most scholars think the early scribes didn’t think anger fit the idea of Jesus, so the story was “altered” to make Jesus seem compassionate. But Jesus was going into the cities to preach, and if he touched and healed this leper, he could not come into the cities because he would be unclean. He was mad about that. He would have to change his whole strategy. People would now have to come to the countryside to hear him. But he chose to heal the leper anyway, because healing and wholeness were a priority to him. Power, guided by love, for the good.
I took an improvisation class at PTS, along with Jim, a tall, laid-back, surfer dude from San Diego. Virginia Damon was the professor, she had starred on Broadway, and she was a pistol. We were doing an improvisation exercise and Jim kept messing up and being very San Diego about it. Virginia was losing her patience. He messed up again, and Virginia said, “Jim!” and she raised her hand as if to hit him. Jim lowered his head, expecting to be hit. I watched this unfold in slow motion. Virginia caught herself. She saw Jim’s posture as a reflection of the shame he felt. Her face softened, and instead of hitting him, she lowered her head, and kissed
him on the forehead. And Jim’s face lit up. He wasn’t punished like he’d always been, he was loved, and given another chance. Jim says that this moment changed him for the good.
Enjoy the Soup-er Bowl, enjoy the Super Bowl. And may we be reminded: Blessed are the meek, for they exercise power, guided by love, for the good. Amen.