Sunday, October 8, 2017

Deliverance: Blessed Are the Meek

In an article for Decision magazine, Samuel Kamaleson tells a Christian folk story from South India. There are several versions of it, but here it opens with a young boy who loved to play marbles. He regularly walked through his neighborhood with a pocketful of his best marbles, hoping to find opponents to play against. One marble in particular, his special blue marble, had won him many matches. During one walk he encountered a young girl who was eating a bag of chocolate candy. Though the boy's first love was marbles, he (like many of us) had a weakness for chocolate. As he stood there interacting with the young girl, his salivary glands kicked in, and the rumbling in his stomach became uncontrollable. He thought to himself “I have got to get my hands on those chocolates!”

Concocting a plan, he asked the girl, "How about I give you all these marbles for those chocolates?" She replied, "Sounds fair to me." He put his hand in his pocket, searching for the distinguishing cracks on the surface of the blue marble. Once he identified the blue marble with his fingertip, he carefully pushed it to the bottom of his pocket and pulled out all the other marbles. As he handed the marbles to the girl in exchange for the chocolate, the boy thought his plan was a success and turned to walk away. As he began to eat the candy, he suddenly turned to the girl and asked, "Hey, did you give me all the chocolates?"

Our fallen nature persuades us to posture ourselves in the same deceptive and defiant attitude as the boy in this story. We want everything the kingdom of God has to offer. We want to have a secure sense of God's presence. We want all our prayers to be answered. We want to "feel close" to Jesus. And we want to flourish in the riches of God's glory. We want it all! But we are unwilling to give up everything for it. Many times there is a "blue marble" in our lives that we seem unwilling to offer to the control of Christ. But, until we can fully submit ourselves to God's will, our participation in God's kingdom will be limited.

READ MATTHEW 5:1–5 NRSV

“Meek” is one of the most misunderstood words in the entire Bible. In our time, “meek” has certain connotations: “Weak,” “Harmless,” “Spiritless.” A meek person, in our world, is seen as someone who is a doormat. When we think “meek,” we think of someone like Adrian from the Rocky movies. Do you remember Adrian?


Especially Adrian from the first couple of movies… Shy, unassuming, never raised her voice. She just went along with whatever Rocky said. A meek person, in our time, is viewed as someone who lives in mortal fear of offending anyone else.

But here is the problem: That is not what “meek” means in the Bible! That word is used, in particular, to describe two pretty important people in the Bible: Moses and Jesus. You remember Moses, don’t you? He is the guy who stood toe to toe with the most powerful ruler of his day. He is the guy who challenged (very publicly) the slavery of his people. Moses does not come across as someone who would live in mortal fear of offending anyone! And what about Jesus? Though we sometimes like to picture Jesus as the cute Precious Moments figurine from the Christian bookstore, Jesus was confrontational! He was a loud, boisterous leader who publicly called out the religious leaders of his time. He turned over tables in the temple! They didn’t kill Jesus because he was nice. They killed Jesus because He was a revolutionary. Both Moses and Jesus seemed to be absolutely fearless! So, how do we reconcile the fact that the Bible calls both of them “meek”? As I said, I think we have grossly misunderstood this word.

This word that is most often rendered “meek” in our translations could be translated in other ways. This is the same word found in Isaiah 61, which is Jesus’ sermon text for the Sermon on the Mount. There, the word is most often translated: “oppressed,” or “poor,” or even “humble.” When Jesus says “meek,” He is not talking about people who are submissive, mild, or unassertive. He is talking about people who are humble in the sense of being oppressed. Or, you could say, they have “been humbled.” They are bent over by the injustice of the world. But instead of giving up, they submit themselves to the work of God.

I like the way one commentator of the Sermon on the Mount, Glen Stassen, translates this word: “Those who are surrendered to God.” We could also use the word “tame” here. There are some people who have been “tamed by God.” They have given themselves over (as completely as possible) to the will of God. They surrender their will so completely to God that God’s will and their will are the same! Jesus says, those kinds of people will inherit the earth!

There is another place where this word “meek” is used, and I think that story is quite illustrative. As Jesus is entering Jerusalem for the final time, this is how Matthew describes the scene. Jesus tells His disciples to go into the village ahead of Jerusalem and find a colt. He said, “Untie it, and bring it to me.” This was the colt upon which Jesus rode into Jerusalem. And Matthew says, “All of this happened to fulfill what the prophets said…”
Tell the daughter of Zion, saying, Look, your king is coming to you, humble (meek), and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Matthew 21:5)
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus is described as “meek” as He heads toward Jerusalem? Here was a moment when Jesus was completely submissive to the will of God. He looked danger right in the face, and He stepped forward anyway. When Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek,” he means those people who surrender themselves to the will of God. They humbly set their own desires and fears aside, and they submit themselves to the will of God. The question this beatitude begs then, is this: What does it mean to surrender to God?

In his book, What Is Gospel?, Greg Gilbert tells the story about teaching his young son to swim. Anyone ever have that pleasure? Gilbert said it was a chore! A year or so old at the time, the little guy didn't like getting water in his face in the bathtub, much less this massive pool he was staring at now. At first, "teaching him to swim" meant getting him to splash around a bit on the top step. Then, maybe putting his lips in the water enough to blow bubbles if he was feeling really brave. Eventually he convinced his son to walk around with him in the shallow end. All the while, the little boy had a death-grip around his father’s neck! Once he mastered that, it was time for the Big Show: jumping off the side. Fulfilling his God-given duty as a daddy, Gilbert lifted his son out of the pool. He stood him on the side. And then he said, "Come on, jump!" At that moment, this one-year-old boy had a thought he would have many time throughout his life. It would not be the last time he had this thought, “My father has lost his mind.” The look on his face, in about two seconds, went from confusion to dawning understanding to amused rejection to outright contempt. The boy frowned, and said, “No. I go see Mommy!”

Again, acting faithfully on his solemn responsibility as a father, Gilbert refused to surrender. He chased his son down! He eventually convinced him to return (with all kinds of bribes) back to the pool. And so they came to the moment of truth. Father once again jumped into the water. He stood in front of his son with his arms outstretched. His son was bobbing up and down in his swimmy-diaper. You’ve seen it! That look that one-year-olds make: I kind of want to jump, but not really. "Come on, kiddo," his dad said. “I'm right here. I'll catch you. I promise!" The boy looked at his father half skeptically, did one more little wind-up. He bounced at the knees. Then, he fell into the pool with what was more of a flop than a jump. And his father caught him.

After that they were off to the races. “Doot 'gain, Daddy! Doot 'gain!” And so commenced half an hour of jump, catch, lift, reset, jump, catch, lift, reset. When it was over, Gilbert and his wife started to worry that maybe their son had gotten a bit too comfortable with the water. What if he wandered out to the pool when no one was there with him? Would he remember all the times he'd safely jumped into the water and decide he had this pool thing whipped? Would he jump again? Over the next few days they watched him around the pool. And what they saw both comforted them as parents and touched them deeply. Never once did that little boy think about jumping in. At least not unless his father was standing underneath him with my arms out, promising to catch him. And then he would fly! You see, despite all his apparent successes, this little boy’s trust was never in his own ability to handle the water. It was in his father. It was in his father's promise: “Come on, kiddo. Jump. I promise I'll catch you.”

When Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” do you know what He meant? Jesus meant: “Go ahead and jump!” Give yourself completely to the will of the Father. Surrender your life into God’s mission. And when you do, I will catch you! The Kingdom of God has come, and that means great things for the people in this world courageous enough to become meek!

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