The first step for Larry McCall in defining walking like Jesus did comes from last week’s passage: Matt.11:29, where Jesus describes Himself as “meek” and “lowly in heart.” Meekness is generally regarded as a sort of self-effacing and submissive demeanour. It is also generally seen as a negative thing: “weak, powerless, ineffectual, inadequate, chickenhearted, lily-livered and lacking courage.”
One might be forgiven for finding that idea difficult to reconcile with a Jesus who threw out the moneychangers from the Temple area and who publicly denounced the religious leaders of His day. (Not to mention claims to being more important than Abraham or the Temple.) What did Jesus mean about being “meek”?
We were taught in our church background that it means “teachableness,” and there is a great deal of truth in that. Yet that is not all. Christians often see it as being “mild, patient, longsuffering.” (And they would be correct!) Jesus was able to take all of the abuse heaped upon Him, including a hideous death, in a patient and even forgiving manner. Is this really weakness?
Or is it strength? What does it take to take all the punishment that the world can dish out, including death, and come out of it with a forgiving and redeeming attitude? (Not to mention, ALIVE!) Surely these take a toughness that is beyond normal human ken, a strength that is literally superhuman.
But it is not just tough. It is also very tender, such as in Isaiah 42:1-4 (applied to Jesus in Matt. 12:15-21). The reed symbolizes a weak, fragile person, whom Jesus treats with gentleness and tender care. He strengthens the weak by treating them with respect and lifting them to a higher plane. The smoking flax candle wick emits a smoke that irritates the eyes and lungs, symbolizing an annoying and immature person. Jesus does not rudely snuff out that person’s last spark of hope or helpfulness. He doesn’t “stomp on weak, obnoxious, problematic, immature people!”
A Bible lesson online offers this analogy: “A horse, before it is tamed, is strong but, being wild, is useless to man. After being tamed it does not lose its strength. It just becomes tamed, controlled, and useful. A good definition for meekness is ‘strength under control.’”
The balance between tough and tender seems to be the line between taking abuse heaped on the self and refusing to stand silently by as abuse is heaped on the weak and helpless. Jesus helped the weak and spoke up when the strong placed heavy burdens on the weak. Yet when it was his turn to be abused, He turned the other cheek. Clearly this is strength, not weakness.
The question for us is whether we will allow ourselves to be tamed and render ourselves useful to God. (We are fortunate that, unlike the horse, He supplies our strength through the Holy Spirit, too.) Can we learn to return good for evil? To practice gentleness and equality in our dealings with the poor, weak and oppressed around us? Can we learn to do what we can lift others out of helplessness and invite them into the true freedom of the children of God?