I read this quote recently while working on a service of baptism:
“When the convert emerges from the water, the world seems changed. The world has not changed, it is always wonderful and horrible, iniquitous and filled with beauty. But now, after baptism, the eyes that see the world have changed” (Liturgy Training Publications).
With wonder, I realized that we who are baptized, or who are believers or even seekers, need to be aware of our own eyes and how we see the world. The world is not going to change; we must be the ones to change.
So I started working on how best to teach an “Attitude Change” or change of perspective that Jesus and John the baptizer both spoke about when they said, “Repent! For the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The Greek word for repent here is “metanoia,” indicating not just a change of direction (the Hebrew word for repent, תְּשׁוּבָה, teshuva, means “turn back” specifically to God, but can also indicate just a change in direction), but a change of one’s entire perspective: heart, mind, eyes, understanding. Meta — noia is what John and Jesus were calling us to; but how do we change our perspective?
Well, shortly after Jesus calls for a metanoia in Matthew chapter 4, he begins to teach. Chapters 5 – 7 in Matthew comprise the longest teaching section of Jesus anywhere in the Bible: the Sermon on the Mount, and the sermon on the mount kicks off with a series of perspective-changing imperatives:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
So we are using this series of imperatives to help us change our own attitudes. These statements can be confusing; we’re taking them one at a time to make them more manageable.
Sunday, Jan. 21, we tackled “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Meek? Blessed are the meek? Meekness is not exactly a quality that is honored in our present day. A current definition for “meek” in Merriam Webster says, “enduring injury with patience and without resentment : mild.” That definition backs up what I think most people have in the back of their mind for meek: “doormat.”
In our entirety of scriptures, only two biblical characters are described as “Meek:” Moses and Jesus. I would never say that either of them served as a “Doormat.” Rather, their leadership was found in the source of their power: God. We get a better clue as to what Jesus meant by “meek” when we search for other scriptural references using “Meek.” As it turns out, Jesus’ “The meek shall inherit the earth” was a direct quote from Psalm 37. In Hebrew, the word we have translated as meek means “Humbled.” It carries an even heavier connotation of the humility being by choice — as an animal who chooses to be obedient to his master. A good image for this is a work animal, like an ox, being yoked to a plow or wagon and following the direction of the human. The ox hasn’t lost any of its power or strength, but all of that power and strength is being submitted to the master.
Our master is Jesus. That might be hard for some to swallow, but it is who we claim to be when we say we are “Christians.” To be meek then, for us, means to take our best talents and skills and submit them to God’s direction. We don’t lose our selves in the process; rather we use what God has given us (like God gave the ox brute strength), trusting that we will be led.
When we learn to be “Meek,” we are showing our faith and our trust that God will come out on top. We are trusting that we don’t have to fight back or put up defensive protection for ourselves: God will take care of that for us.
With this wonderful understanding of the word, “Meek,” a terrific modern day example of meekness is Martin Luther King, Jr, who advocated for non violent protest against the injustice of Jim Crow, segregation, and other racial injustices. Without fighting back, he was able to lead an entire corps to speak up for equal rights. In his wisdom, he said, “Darkness cannot chase away darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot conquer hate; only love can do that.”
So our (be)Attitude Change for Meekness challenges us to use our strength and power to be light in the darkness, and love in the midst of hate, trusting that is all we are called to do when we submit ourselves to our loving and meek master.
May it be so for all of us as we continue to change our perspective on the world.