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A friend of mine once told me her agnostic sister-in-law had opened the Bible for the first time and happened to land on Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Irritated, she shut the book, convinced that her suspicions about Christianity ultimately favoring weak, blindly submissive individuals had been confirmed.
There was once a time when I couldn’t have agreed more with her. My notion of the ideal Christian – presumably a person fitting the description of meek – was someone who meagerly followed a set of rules they didn’t really understand and consistently maintained a monotonous disposition.
I assumed that qualities like passion, self-confidence and playfulness were in direct opposition to meekness and other such characteristics that Christians were called to emulate.
Even after I began practicing the faith, I was still put off by the word meek and everything I believed it to entail.
It wasn’t until I heard a talk by Fr. John Riccardo that I realized how misled I had been.
In explaining the original meaning of the term meek, Fr. Riccardo explained that the word as people tend to recognize it today is not at all how it was intended when used by Jesus in Matthew 5:5 and 11:29 or by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:1.
“Meek” was translated from the Greek word “praus” (pronounced prah-oos), which is a military term referring to a horse. As writer Sam Whatley explains in a River Region’s Journey article, “Wild stallions were brought down from the mountains and [trained.]”
Depending on their temperament, some were used for tasks like pulling carts and others were used for racing. The finest stallions, however, would be trained for war.
“They retained their fierce spirit, courage, and power, but were disciplined to respond to the slightest nudge or pressure of the rider’s leg,” Whatley writes. “They could gallop into battle … and come to a sliding stop at a word. They were not frightened by arrows, spears, or torches. Then they were said to be meeked.”
As Fr. Riccardo explained, meek in the sense that biblical writers meant it refers to strength that is under control. It’s strength that knows when to assert itself and when to be passive, as opposed to reacting purely out of emotion. It’s strength that can effectively defend itself and what it values, all the while knowing that it, in itself, is not in control but is instead a capable and crucial instrument of the one who is.
When I heard this description of meek, clearly portraying neither a blind follower nor a passionless coward, it became clear why we are instructed to strive for such a characteristic. Anything else is either taking matters wholly into our own hands, inevitably leading to disaster, or washing our hands completely of any responsibility, thus deeming ourselves powerless.
In reality, like the warrior upon his warhorse, our relationship with God is meant to be a cooperation in which he holds the power. It is his far surpassing intellect and preparedness that guides the path, and our trained ability to remain in tune with his direction that enables us to walk it.
Read more about the virtue of meekness and its proper understanding here.