The Power of Humility and Meekness

And when Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” Jesus may have been summing up teaching that took ten or twenty minutes,  during which he explained what it meant to be meek, and why the meek are going to inherit the earth. By the way, this particular beatitude is a clear reference to Psalm 37:11 wherein the Psalmist says, “The meek shall possess the land.” It may be that Jesus used Psalm 37 in its entirety to define the attitude of meekness. In Psalm 37 we learn that the meek do not fret themselves over the success of the wicked, because they trust their future to God and God’s justice. God always has the last word 

Now, I don’t think I have ever used the word meek, except when singing the first verse of an old hymn by Charles Wesley.

Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

“Meek” and “meekness” are not words that we often use. We are more likely use the words “humble” and “humility.” Is there a difference? In English, there is. In the main “humility” is an attitude one has about one’s self, whereas “meekness”is an attitude one has toward others.

Let us look first at humility. My friend, the late Ron Seeber was our City Attorney for almost forty years. For the better part of two decades he was also a lay Franciscan in the Catholic Church. He had a good grasp of man’s law and God’s. Once, when preparing a sermon, I called Ron and asked him for a good, pithy definition of humility. He immediately responded, “Worth, humility is the ability to reflect reality.”

That definition is right-on! “Humility is the ability to reflect reality.” 

Hold that thought. My friend Steve Jones was a businessman. He was successful in the corporate world, and in the world of small business. One day, in reflecting on his varied career, he told me that in all the years he worked he encountered only three kinds of people. 1) The first kind of person is not as good as he thinks he is. If you assign him a project, he will accept it, but as the end draws near, he will start making excuses, and he will need help finishing. 2) The second kind of person is better than he thinks he is. If you assign him a difficult or unfamiliar project, he will refuse it from the beginning. He thinks it is beyond his ability, and he is afraid of failure. This is a shame, he will never reach his full potential. 3) The third kind of person is almost exactly as good as she thinks she is. If you assign her a unfamiliar project, she will accept it, even is she has never done it before, confident that she will grow into her new roll. This third kind of person is humble, for humility is the ability to reflect reality.

The absolute archetype and hero of humility is the Eternal Word who became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. When St. Paul wanted the Christians in Philippi to develop humility, he exhorted them using the words of a hymn they already used in their worship.  In Philippians 2, he writes:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name,  that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

In Jesus Christ we have a perfect archetype, example and hero of humility. Now let’s look at meekness.

Humility focuses on one’s attitude about one’s self. By contrast, meekness focuses on one’s attitude towards others.A meek person restrains his own power so as to allow room for others. A meek person is a team player.

During our drive to raise funds for Piedmont Park, I was particularly impressed with Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough. It was obvious to those of us who met the Sheriff and his staff,  that Sheriff Kimbrough surrounded himself with with the best people he could find. And he was content to let them shine—as he was content to let us shine, knowing that the success of his team would reflect well on him. The sheriff is meek enough to gather a good team, and wise enough to be a team player.

In the Bible, the archetype and hero of meekness is Moses. Moses was living in a desert keeping his father-in-law’s sheep when God spoke to him from the Bush that burned with fire and was not consumed, and sent him to Pharaoh to say, “Let my people go.” When God made his plan known to Moses, Moses immediately objected and protested he was not a good speaker. God said, “That is okay, Moses, I will speak to you, and you will then speak to Aaron in my name, and Aaron will speak for us both.” Eventually, Moses became a great speaker—his final sermon in Deuteronomy is 33 chapters long; but it was the meekness of Moses that made him give way to Aaron until he was better able to speak for himself. 

There are other notable example of Mose’s meekness. For instance, after Moses stood up to Pharaoh, and commanded the ten plagues, and led the Children of Israel out of Egypt and across the great Sea, Moses founded himself bogged down in the details of taking care of a large and growing crowd of people, some say as large as 600,000. Fortunately, his father in law Jethro saw what was happening.So Jethro said, “Moses, these people are going to wear you out with their continual coming. You must take steps to preserve yourself.” Jethro then told Moses to chose men from among the people who were trustworthy and hated bribes, and to teach them the statutes and wisdom of God, and to appoint them them over the people as rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 

Thankfully, Moses was meek enough to recognize good advice when he heard it. He immediately adopted Jethro’s plan. He appointed leaders of 1,000’s, and 100’s, and 50’s and 10’s. I am quite sure that when someone had a problem he took it to his leader, and if it was important enough, his leader passed it up the chain of command. No doubt, the really important stuff still came to Moses. This masterful organization enabled Moses to survive forty years of wandering in the desert. It is small wonder that we read in Numbers 12:3 that, “Moses was a very meek man, more meek than anyone else on the face of the earth” 

In the main humility is an attitude one has about one’s self, whereas meekness is an attitude one has toward others. So, how can we maximize each?

Well, if humility is the ability to reflect reality, then we must make an effort to know who we truly are and what we are capable of. The Oracle at Delphi was aimed at the creation of humility. It declared, “Know yourself!” And St. Paul said, “Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think, but think with sober judgement.” Sober judgement is the key. If we judge ourselves soberly, we will not overate ourselves, but neither will we underrate ourselves.

There are many ways to discover who we truly are. Some recommend the practice of Lextio Divina, which means to read the scripture in such a way as to imagine one’s self as a character in the passage we are reading. For instance, I used Lextio Divina when reading Matthew 21. When Jesus told the parable of the vineyard owner with two sons, I immediately recognized myself as the first son. His father told him to go work in the vineyard. He said, “I will not.” Then he repented and went. He did his father’s will, but he robbed himself of the joy of obeying his father from the beginning. I have often done the same.

Others have found the Myers-Briggs or Keirsey Bates personality tests useful for self-discovery. I did, so much so, that for twenty years I rejected the appeal of my friend Chuck Chambers for me to study the Enneagram. I am sorry I did. Had I taken the Enneagram, I would have eliminated some blind spots in my personal vision, and I would be a healthier, happier person today. 

If you have not taken a voyage of personal discovery in which you have searched out yourself before God, it is never to late to do it.

Then there is meekness. If meekness is the ability to recognize wisdom, giftedness and strength in others, then we must make an effort to know those who are close to us. If there was a Delphic Oracle aimed at creating meekness, it would declare, “Know your brother and sister, even as you know yourself.” In 1st Corinthians 7:7 St. Paul simply affirms that “each one has his or her own special gift from God.” Some people think that we can’t know others as well as we know ourselves, but that is wrong,  Others can often see in us what we cannot see in ourselves, good and bad. And we can often see in other what they cannot see in themselves, good and bad. Good leaders help people to see the best in themselves and bring it out.

Certainly, pastors and other church members must know what the people in their congregations are capable of. This is often a matter of perspective. This is my second time as pastor at Fries Memorial. If I look at the church from a position 35 years in the past, I see an aging, shrinking congregation with a retread pastor. However, if I look at Fries Memorial from the position of last Saturday night when we raised more that $20,000.00 for a worthy project, I see an amazingly talented and dedicated group of people, with a pastor who has just caught a glimpse of what our future might be, with God’s help. One thing is certain, when we seek to know what we ourselves are capable of, and when we seek to know what our brothers and sisters are capable of, we must never forget that God is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask, think or imagine. God’s often chooses to manifest his strength in weakness. Time and time again he makes use of the least of the least, for so it please him to do. Then he makes available to them resources the like of which is simply astounding. No wonder the apostle Peter said, “Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God that in due time, he may exalt you.”

Finis

Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

Note: Popes have only spoken Ex Cathedra only twice in the whole history of the papacy.  On July 18,1870 Pope Pius IX followed the first Vatican Counsel in making a solemn declaration of Papal Infallibility. A second decree took place on November 1, 1950 when Pope Pius XII  defined the Bodily Assumption of Mary into heaven as an article of faith.

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