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Blessed are the Meek for they Shall Inherit the Earth

February 8, 2014

Deep HumilityWhen Christ Jesus preached the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, they were never intended to be saccharine, “greeting card” sentiments that warm the heart and tickle one’s fancy.  Rather, they were shocking statements that shook people out of the complacency of fulfilling the Mosaic law and enabled them to see how to live according to the Spirit. They were radical, difficult, seemingly contradictory pronouncements concerning true Christian life and the nature of genuine happiness.  They were intended to be challenging and to challenge our conventional understanding of the good life and human destiny.

If taken seriously, the beatitudes as a way of life present us with the ultimate choice: to live in imitation of Christ or according to the way of the worldly wise, but spiritually foolish.  A life lived according to the beatitudes is an affront to the ways of the world and its focus on the here and now.  The particular beatitude “blessed are the meek” has been criticized as the ultimate ode to weakness and mediocrity.  The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche focused his critique of Christianity on this particular beatitude.  Nietzsche believed meekness was not a virtue but a vice.  For him, meekness was an abdication of what it means to be human.  In response to the Christian call to be meek, Nietzsche developed the concept of ubermensch or superman.  According to Nietzsche, man’s destiny was to create his own system of values, freed from the constraining chains of governments or religion.  For him, the ubermensch, the superman and the powerful man, was the ultimate destiny of authentic man.

While Nietzsche took the claims of Christ seriously enough to focus his critiques on them, he fundamentally misunderstood those claims. These assertions of Christ, far from being an abdication, are an invitation to make a heroic choice:  to imitate the New Adam.  Where the old Adam chose disobedience, the new Adam chose obedience (Philippians 2:8).  Where the old Adam chose pride and justification of self, the new Adam chose humility and meekness. Where the old Adam chose death, the new Adam chose life. In the beatitudes, those same choices are given to us.

Even those forerunners of Christ such as Moses the Prophet chose to follow the path of meekness. As to Moses, Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes, “There is a battle of the reason with them and a struggle to rid the soul of them; and there are men in whom this struggle has ended in success; it was so with Moses, as we know; he was superior both to anger and to desire; the history testifying of him in both respects, that he was meek beyond all men (and by meekness it indicates the absence of all anger and a mind quite devoid of resentment), and that he desired none of those things about which we see the desiring faculty in the generality so active” (On the Soul and the Resurrection). In this passage, it is clear that to be meek does not mean to be servile, but to be master over tendencies to get angry or carried away by desires. Meekness is not weakness, but power, the power of humility and love, expressed in gentleness, calmness, and kindness.

It is not only Moses, the meekest of the Prophets, who testifies to the Messiah as meek and humble of heart.  Isaiah prophecies, “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.  A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth” (Is. 42:2-3). Meekness also does not mean cowardly shying away from the truth, but being a brave witness to the truth in one’s very interactions with others.

In choosing to be meek in imitation of Christ, the Christian may well encounter ridicule, suffering, and harsh treatment in this world.  One need only look at the history of the martyrs whose blood testifies to this fact. These martyrs, witnesses to Christ, chose imitation of Christ freely and voluntarily as did Christ Himself when He submitted Himself to suffer upon a cross.

Indeed, Christ may be depicted as a warrior but a warrior of love whose chief weapon is meekness.  Saint Gregory the Theologian wrote, “But we show that our warfare is in behalf of Christ by fighting as Christ, the peaceable and meek, who has borne our infirmities, fought. Though peaceable, we do not injure the word of truth, by yielding a jot, to gain a reputation for reasonableness; for we do not pursue that which is good by means of ill: and we are peaceable by the legitimate character of our warfare, confined as it is to our own limits and the rules of the Spirit. Upon these points, this is my decision, and I lay down the law for all stewards of souls and dispensers of the Word: neither to exasperate others by their harshness, nor to render them arrogant by submissiveness: but to be of good words in treating of the Word, and in neither direction to overstep the mean” (Oration 42). Again, Christian meekness does not entail mindless submissiveness, but mindful sensitivity expressed both in a concern for others and a devotion to the truth.

It is instructive to recall that human history is replete with tyrannical political figures who, upon assuming power, focus their attention on exterminating Christianity from their locus of control.  Intuitively, they understood the powerful attraction of Christianity to sway the human heart.  Even Saint Paul, prior to his conversion, saw it as his duty to persecute the Christians because he was a loyal Roman citizen.  Once converted to Christ, Paul embraced meekness and humility in imitation of Christ. “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

True human fulfillment and beatitude can only be found in imitation of Christ.  It is never found in the pursuit of self-fulfillment or goals that make man the center of the universe for that is contrary to the true nature of things: Christ is the center of the universe and has been ordained as such since the beginning of time.  Scripture testifies to this.  Empirically, our own lives testify to this as evidenced in the myriad problems we bring upon ourselves when we attempt to become the Nietzschean ubermensch. The Neitzschean Superman is no solution, but the God-man is. The true path of blessedness is found in Christ’s commandment, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matt. 11:29). And as Saint Leo Pope of Rome comments, “Let us then take the yoke, that is not heavy nor burdensome, of the Truth that rules us, and let us imitate His humility, to Whose glory we wish to be conformed: He Himself helping us and leading us to His promises, Who, according to His great mercy, is powerful to blot out our sins, and to perfect His gifts in us, Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen” (Homily 23)

From → Themes

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