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Why meekness doesn’t mean weakness

One of the most consoling and appreciated statements of Jesus for people who struggle in this vale of tears is the passage on his meekness and humility in St. Matthew 11:28-30. He said, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

This is the passage I think of every time I see in one of our churches the image of the Sacred Heart with the arms of Jesus outstretched in the gesture of invitation. This passage also relates to the Third Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

But being meek and cultivating meekness presents problems to Americans who grew up or are growing up in our secular society. Meekness has come to mean being a doormat. A cartoon character as well known as Superman or Popeye the Sailor goes by the name of Caspar Milquetoast. He is picked on, ridiculed, henpecked, abused and humiliated without any assertiveness on his part.

This is not the meekness of Jesus or the substance of the beatitude. The Greek word in St. Matthew’s gospel that we translate as meek is praos. One of my Greek professors insisted this word is best translated “tamed” or “trained.” Jesus said he was meek and humble of heart, but he could also be indignant.

The meek Jesus entered the temple area during the week of his Passion, drove the merchants out and overturned the tables of the money changers. The meek Jesus denounced the scribes and Pharisees publicly. In his 23rd chapter St. Matthew lists seven indictments against them, each one beginning with these words, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.” He called them blind guides, whitewashed tombs, serpents, and a brood of vipers.

All this means that true praos, being meek, is not weakness. Meekness, as seen in Jesus, is strength held in reserve.