The Upside-Down Blessing – pt 3 – Meekness

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth – Matthew 5:5

We’re studying the upside-down blessings that kick off Christ’s most famous sermon, the sermon on the mount. The series starts here if you want to start from the beginning.

This third blessing in the series is extremely countercultural, which makes it very relevant, and important for each of us western-American Christians to understand. Let’s come at this one from a pop-culture perspective. This one may take a bit longer, but it’s worth it, and it’s “mission critical” to Christianity:

I grew up, from 11 years onward, on a steady diet of super-heroes and 80’s Saturday morning cartoons. Many great things came from that exposure: there are portions of the Bible I understand better, creativity comes more easily, and so does storytelling. Not everything that came in that package, however, was good, even though heroes and fantasies make for inspiring photos.

For me personally, there is no real way to undersell what a powerful effect comics and cartoons had on the formation of my personality, on my expectations of life, the universe, and everything. Even though I cognitively knew that these were “just comics” or “just cartoons”… one still cannot immerse oneself into a world of hero stories without being influenced. When you’re a kid you put on a cape or grab the action figures and play out scenes of heroism. You get to be the hero, create the story, save the world and even in imaginary play it feels awesome.

Adults do the same thing, you know, we just put the toys down… (well most of us do). But the idea of the hero doesn’t really die, and we still try to live it out in our own ways. Some of us, myself-included, have a hard time listening to someone without wanting to “fix it” or “save the day”. Some of us can be at risk of putting far too much of ourselves into the work and not reserving enough for home, family, friends… Or on the home front we have a need to control, direct, rescue that can overwhelm everything else. If you’ve ever responded to a situation with an interior attitude of “This looks like a job for super… me.” Then you know what I’m talking about. –for our younger readers, the catch phrase of old Superman cartoons was “This looks like a job for Superman! –“

I’ve heard our culture try to explain this hero or savior complex as a concept of privilege according to race or gender (and there’s surely something there), but I also wonder also how much of it is attached to the stories we read/watched/studied as kids, or that we read/watch/study as adults? They frame the culture we live in. You encounter Spiderman or Superman or Captain America and honestly… how could a young brain want to be anything other than the hero? Is that too far distant from a curated retelling of a true story where the only details shared highlight how heroic someone was? It wakes up that little five-year-old in us who wants to be that person.

Look, it’s good to be helpful for people, and there are plenty of times at work where the “extra mile” is legitimately needed, and the world (and especially the fictional world) has got honest to goodness real heroes but… an inner need to “be the hero” conflicts with one of the basic principles of Christianity… Meekness.

I know, I’ve lived that conflict, and it’s a challenge.

Meekness

In the Dictionary you’ll find it means: enduring injury with patience and without resentment (so no striking back, no retributive justice).  Meek in the Bible means gentle, humble, and mild. But you’ll also find negative definitions. Meekness in our culture is equated with deficiency in strength or quality. It’s often almost a synonym for ‘weak’. In the comic book, the meek people are the ones Spiderman rescues because they can’t do it themselves.

When you define it like that… no one wants to be meek.

I wonder if anything about our understanding of meekness has really changed at all, since Jesus did deliver this message in a place steeped in cultural heroes. You can make King David sound amazing if you leave out some parts of the story. And the Greeks and Romans had tales of Hercules, Perseus, and more.

How is turning the other cheek, forgiving, not being resentful, and refusing to force our way… how are those things virtues in a world where we live for the action scene where the hero takes a big hit and then comes back harder, where we have whole histories based on the cycle of revenge, and where people that we know will often define themselves by resentment? Those things look powerful. Why be meek when it looks so… weak?

The Biblical answer to this is the very person of Jesus and the work done on the cross, and here’s why.

If anyone, anywhere, any time ever had a true and perfect right to exact vengeance, to claim justice, to strike back, to be resentful, to use force to get their way… If anyone had the right to smite their enemies and the world would just have nod, walk off, and say “that’s fair,” or “totally justified,” or “they really had it coming,” then that person is Jesus Christ.

If we follow Paul’s Christ-hymn in Philippians 2 then we recognize the following:

  • Out of Love God became a human being, emptying himself of SO much of who God is and taking human form (Jesus Christ)
  • So that He could connect with everyone, God became the lowest kind of human being, poor, an infant, a servant, at the bottom of the ladder.
  • While living as a human being, God was humble, taught, served, healed, and generally loved us.
  • And this is why we killed Him, because he threatened the status quo, he threatened our understanding of the universe. He threatened the idea that control, and sin, and selfishness, and oppression, and legalism, and might were at the top of the power chain. We couldn’t handle the love, or the justice of God.
  • And He let us kill him, in the worst way that the first century knew. Crucifixion is… abominable. I want to say it’s inhuman, but the story proves otherwise… it’s very human.

If we stop there, then this is a super-hero story where Jesus says, “I tried it the nice way now I’ll defeat the ones who don’t understand!” then we have set up for an amazing battle sequence with laser eyes and supersonic flight, and lots and lots of collateral property damage. And honestly, that is an immanently comprehendible story isn’t it. This is God who we just killed, and He’s well demonstrated the ability to call down pillars of fire, kill kings with a thought, strike people with plague, and demolish entire cities in wrath…

But Jesus, though he could… and get this please, because he’s justified to be able to do so… still does nothing. No retaliation, no high Hollywood budget special effects extravaganza, no end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario… he just… allows us to kill him.

That…

Does not make a good comic book, film, movie, or hero story. It does not fit our definition of “power” or “winning” or “right” in any way that we have been culturally taught since birth. But it does… save the world.

And the Christ hymn continues

  • Because Jesus did that, he has been lifted up and exalted. We see this in the resurrection, the ascension, and the second coming.
  • Because Jesus did that, his name is above every other name in all of creation.
  • AND all things in heaven, earth, and even under the earth (like hell, death, and Hades), must bow their knee before him. They must recognize that Christ is the source of ultimate power and authority.

This does nothing short of rewriting, or perhaps establishing, the base code of the universe. Real, honest to goodness love, as defined by this story, is the most powerful, most heroic, most meaningful thing in the universe. Period.

And what are the qualities demonstrated by Christ in this story:

  • Gentleness – nothing was forced upon us
  • Restraint – like on a divine level
  • Humility – Christ is servanthood defined
  • Forgiveness – a complete lack of resentment, vengance, or “hitting back”

In a word… He was meek.

And because of that, He inherited the world.

And you, when you call out to Christ, when you commit to walk in that way, you get to be on that super-team, saved by that hero. Accepting a salvation that looks backwards, until you realize this is the truth… and the world’s understanding of salvation … that’s what’s backwards.

Choosing to be Meek is an Aspect of Love

When you can hit back, and you have a right to hit back, but instead choose Christlike love, then you choose meekness and forgiveness. I add a caveat here to say that the Bible is NOT in favor of you staying in a dangerous situation (Matt 7:6, Matt 10:13-15). Get free of toxic situations for sure, but then… once you are free, when you decide to forgive and move on instead of hitting back, you choose love, you choose Meekness, and you choose Christ.

When you allow Christ to be the hero instead of you… When you allow God to be the creator instead of you… When you allow God to be the sustainer instead of you… When you allow God to teach you your identity instead of forming your own, or adopting a cultural template… When you practice self-control, patience, gentleness, from a place of love… You choose Meekness, and you choose Christ.

And in this upside-down blessing, it is YOU who are powerful, it is YOU who reflect Christ’s heroism and sacrificial love, because you have chosen to practice that kind of love and now God can work through you. The world is yours, through Christ, even though the world itself has no idea why you are so free from all that it can do. AND your salvation is not tied to how successful you are at this because Jesus saves you first. SO, you can practice it for the rest of your life without fearing your failures, and you can see what blessings arrive when you learn the power behind choosing to be meek.

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