There’s No I in Meek

Posted: March 3, 2010 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

By Matt Horan

Using his trademark roundhouse kick, Chuck Norris once made a field goal at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa from the 50 yard line of Qualcomm stadium in San Diego.

I find “meekness” to be a troubling concept.  Yesterday our 3rd grade daughter came home and told us that there are kids picking on her in school.  My first instinct should have been to teach her, “What would Jesus do” in this situation.  Instead, I let myself wonder, “What would Chuck Norris do?”

What makes this word more troubling is the prediction that follows in the beatitudes.  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”  Really?  Isn’t it the strong, the connected, the influential, the ambitious that are always in charge?  What is so special about the meek?   What does it mean to inherit the earth, anyway?  The whole earth will someday be theirs?

Actually, there are 13 times that Matthew uses the Greek word translated “earth” here in 5:5.  However, only three times have translators translated it this way.  Usually it is used to refer to dirt or land or a region.  One of the times it’s translated as “earth” is in the parable where three servants are given money to invest and get a return, but one servant buries the money under some “earth” so as to not lose it.  They didn’t really have a concept at the time of the whole round earth.  The earth would be flat for several hundred more years.

Let’s consider where the beatitudes are placed in the Matthew story.  For centuries, Israel had been conquered by nation after nation.  Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and now they were under the heel of the Roman Empire.  They looked forward to the day when they would be delivered from their oppressors and be free again to rule themselves.

The big question of the day was, “How can we get to rule ourselves?”  “How can we once again control this area, the Promised Land?”  “We are the Nation of Israel—and this region that we were supposed to receive from our ancestors, which we were supposed to inherit, how will we get it?”  Inheriting their land became the consuming passion of Israel’s leaders.  It was of utmost importance.

Different groups of Jews argued over the best plan to gain control of the land of their inheritance.  Often you’ll read these three groups asking Jesus questions in order to trick him or trap him into revealing which of these three camps he belonged.  But apparently he doesn’t fit into any of these philosophies.  The plan is this:

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.

Are you kidding?  That’s your plan?  Meekness?  No wonder they got rid of this guy.  His plan would never work!  Back room deals, war, or earning God’s favor—those all seem like better plans.  You might just get killed for talking that way.

First, Jesus didn’t care about whether the nation was restored to the people of Israel.  He was about the work of the Kingdom of God.  Every time the Israelites were a powerful kingdom, they went astray and worshipped other gods.  Jesus couldn’t have cared less about getting them their old kingdom back.  This is a plan for a new one.  The traditional things that you’ve been trying do not work.  Hoarding influence, wealth, and power are not the ways that work in this new Kingdom.  If people weren’t listening yet, this talk about “inheriting the land” would have gotten some ears to perk up instantly.

Instead, the Kingdom of God is not about spreading borders.  It’s not about struggling to gain more land and have more control.  It is not a collection of things.  It is a collection of people.  Matthew sets up a stark contrast between the work of Christ who is gathering people into this new kind of Kingdom, and the work of the devil, who is trying to keep people out of this new Kingdom by enticing them with fame, wealth, or power.  Turns out that can’t have dual citizenship.

The Kingdom worth inheriting is inherited by the meek.  Meekness is not to be associated with being weak, docile, a pushover.  Meekness implies having great power used with restraint. I love the book Incarnate Leadership by Bill Robinson.  (We have copies of Robinson’s book in the bookstore if you’re interested.)  He says, “Submit yourself to the mission.  Meekness is not emptying yourself of drive, ambition, competition, and hard work.  Meekness is channeling those things for your mission, rather than to bring attention/credit on yourself.”

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins mentions that no “great” companies have big ego leaders.  They always have leaders that are passionate for their cause, and couldn’t care less about promoting themselves.

It shows what my life is like when I tell you that one of the best stories about meekness that I’ve ever heard is Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who. It’s the story of an elephant who discovers a whole society of miniature people that live in a city on a speck of dust, but since he has such big ears he’s the only one who can hear them.  He protects the speck the best he can, but since no one else believes him, other animals steal the speck to get him to give up.  Horton hides the speck on a clover leaf, but an Eagle swoops down and steals it.

All that late afternoon and far into the night
That black-bottomed bird flapped his wings in fast flight,
While Horton chased after, with groans, over stones
That tattered his toenails and battered his bones,
And begged, “Please don’t harm all my little folks, who
Have as much right to live as us bigger folks do!”

But far, far beyond him, that eagle kept flapping
And over his shoulder called back, “Quit your yapping.
I’ll fly the night through. I’m a bird. I don’t mind it.
And I’ll hide this, tomorrow, where you’ll never find it!”

And at 6:56 the next morning he did it.
It sure was a terrible place that he hid it.
He let that small clover drop somewhere inside
Of a great patch of clovers a hundred miles wide!
“Find THAT!” sneered the bird. “But I think you will fail.”
And he left
With a flip
Of his black-bottomed tail.

“I’ll find it!” cried Horton. “I’ll find it or bust!
I SHALL find my friends on my small speck of dust!”
And clover, by clover, by clover with care
He picked up and searched the, and called, “Are you there?”
But clover, by clover, by clover he found
That the one that he sought for was just not around.
And by noon poor old Horton, more dead than alive,
Had picked, searched, and piled up, nine thousand and five.

Then, on through the afternoon, hour after hour…
Till he found them at last! On the three millionth flower!
“My friends!” cried the elephant. “Tell me! Do tell!
Are you safe? Are you sound? Are you whole? Are you well?”

From down on the speck came the voice of the Mayor:
“We’ve really had trouble! Much more than our share.
When that black-bottomed birdie let go and we dropped,
We landed so hard that our clocks have all stopped.
Our tea pots are broken. Our rocking-chairs are smashed.
And our bicycle tires all blew up when we crashed.
So, Horton, Please!” pleaded that voice of the Mayor’s,
“Will you stick by us Whos while we’re making repairs?”

“Of course,” Horton answered. “Of course I will stick.
I’ll stick by you small folks though thin and though thick!”

So what is your cause?  Yourself?  Are you jealous of someone else getting attention, credit, rewards that you think you should be getting?  Do you complain about not getting what think you deserve?  Or is your mission the same as God’s?  Is that what gets the benefit of your ambition and energy?

This is the transforming paradox.  Like it says in 2Corinthians 12:9, “God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.”  When we are confident and not humble we deny the grace of God.  When we are humble and not confident we deny the power of God.  With confident humility, Christ sees us and calls us blessed.

We’re invited to choose a cause greater than ourselves.  Meekness reminds me that I am not a cause worthy of my drive, ambition, effort, gifts, or skills.  I will ultimately disappoint myself.  But Jesus, inviting all the world to inherit the Kingdom of God regardless of who you are or what you’ve got or who you know?  Now that’s a worthy cause.

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