Some of you may be aware that I’m a history buff. Most of my personal reading is non-fiction and I particularly enjoy reading American History. Some years ago, I made my way through David McCullough’s 1776, that tells the fascinating story of that fateful year that fashioned for us a Nation. Not long ago I picked up a series of audio lectures by the Historian Robert Dallek, on great presidents of the 20th century. In the opening lecture he asks the question, “what made a great President in the last century or any century, for that matter?” He lists a number of traits that were inevitably present in the lives of the great presidents. They were men of vision, great communicators, practical, men of integrity and also men of luck – being at the right place at the right time. Nowhere, however, in this list of characteristics and attributes of a great president are we to find the two words that Jesus in today’s Gospel asks us to emulate – two words that are used to describe Jesus himself – meek and humble.
In fact, I think most of us would be shocked if we ever heard a politician or any great leader for that matter speak of himself or herself as meek and humble! In a culture that exults the self made individual, that extols so often the type “A” personality, that admires the great movers and shakers in society – meekness and humility don't quite cut the mustard! They certainly wouldn’t be on most folks’ lists of indispensable attributes leading toward greatness.
Yet, Jesus in his call for us to come to him, particularly those who are burdened and stressed out by the relentless rat race of contemporary life and to rest in him – we are invited to put on the two qualities that so framed and shaped his deepest identity as the Son of God – meekness and humility. Sound pretty counter cultural, doesn’t it?
Part of our difficulty in fully appreciating just exactly what Jesus is inviting us to is a language problem. The English connotation of those two words – meekness and humility – clearly conjure up an image in most of our minds of weakness and passivity. From a Biblical perspective, however, that could not be further from the truth. As our first reading from the Prophet Zechariah points out, the kings of Israel saw their ultimate greatness in their keen awareness that all their power and authority rested in God. This was powerfully conveyed through the symbol of the King entering the city riding on a humble donkey. The King exercised power because it was a gift and responsibility from the giver of all power and prestige – the Lord alone.
In Biblical language, meek people were usually people of enormous power and potential. Moses was called a meek man, and certainly he was not a weakling, a push-over, or a human doormat to whatever bully might be lurking on the playground. Just ask Pharaoh! And in our gospel reading, Jesus called himself meek. Certainly, Jesus was no weakling, no retiring quiet pawn on the chessboard of the powerful. And yet he was meek. Because, my friends, meekness is simply controlled strength. Meekness is great power and potential harnessed and directed toward its finest goal. Meekness is strength placed in the control of a higher power, even God Himself.
We need only think about the Enron scandal in our society, some years ago, to realize that many a person possessing the characteristics or talent of greatness failed to achieve their potential because they squandered their gifts on themselves, or failed to refine and sharpen those talents through hard work and clear goals. My sisters and brothers, it is not enough to be strong and talented and powerful or beautiful or wealthy. If those gifts are not placed under the reins of God’s control for the greater good, then the great talent lacks focus, and soon dissipates. As the maxim says – “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely!” But on the other hand, if a strong and gifted person is meek allowing God to manage and direct their giftedness, that person has the chance to achieve their potential, and become the true leader and servant to the world they were born to become.
And so, my friends, seen from this perspective, “Who is meek among us today?” Let’s pray for the courage and personal integrity to step up and be counted. Jesus has a job for each of us to do in life. It is not an easy job, but it is a great job. Take his yoke, pulling alongside Christ himself, strength matched with strength, meekness aligned with meekness, we can partner with the Lord to help turn an untamed world back into a garden paradise. Now, who wants to be called “meek”?