How does the idea of meekness fit in your mind with reaching your power potential? For most of us, the word “meekness” conjures up an image that would seem on the other end of the spectrum from the idea of power. So what do we do with the fact that Jesus puts the term “meekness” in the same breath with inheriting the earth!? Surely there are interesting and exciting things for us to discover as we look into this Beatitude.
The twelve men who were the closest followers of Jesus were in for a real shock as they came into the room that had been prepared for them to eat the Passover meal. They had become convinced (with the probable exception of Judas) that Jesus was indeed who He claimed to be – the Son of God in the flesh, the Messiah who would one day receive the authority written about through all the Hebrew Scriptures, and promised to Him by His Father.
As Jesus had done so consistently through His life, He was once again about to demonstrate His authority in a most unusual way. When the disciples entered what has been called “the Upper Room,” they were met at the door by one dressed in the garments of a servant, who began to wash their feet. It was a common courtesy in that day to have one of the servants wash the feet of guests. Though it was a gracious gesture on the host’s part that brought refreshment to the weary and communicated value to those on the receiving end, it was nevertheless a most menial task for the servant to whom it was assigned.
The startling thing about this encounter was that it was Jesus who had clothed Himself in the servant’s garb, and who proceeded to minister to them in that most basic way. The first teaching He gave them that evening wasn’t with eloquent words or profound thought; rather, it was a demonstration of tender love that showed them the power and authority of true leadership. Their comfort zones were shaken and the hidden motives of their hearts exposed as Jesus began His task. You see, there had been a long-standing dispute among the disciples about which of them was the greatest, and which of them would get the privilege of being close to Jesus in the fullness of His coming Kingdom. None of them would have given the least thought to taking the role of foot-washer, and the idea of Jesus doing that task was simply incomprehensible. But there He was, and the shallow pettiness of their argument was being laid bare before them without a word being spoken.
The thing that captures me about this story, recorded for us in the 13th chapter of John’s Gospel, is the utterly unexpected foundation of Jesus’ act of servanthood that is given to us in verses two through five:
And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
Try to get your mind around what we are being told in these few words. Jesus is already aware that one of His closest friends is going to sell Him out to the Jewish officials for the sake of personal gain. He is aware that every one of these men is going to abandon Him within just a few hours, as He is taken to His trial and crucifixion. Each of them, in their own way, is going to deny their love for Jesus and leave Him to die alone and abandoned.
But Jesus had a resource that enabled Him, the greatest and most powerful human being who ever lived, to take the low place of serving those who wanted to be great because He had created them to be great. Here’s how He did it: first, the text says that Jesus knew that “the Father had given all things into His hands.” Because of His intimacy with His Father, Jesus understood that by God’s own promise He had authority over everything, both in that moment and in the coming age of God’s Kingdom that will be established on the earth. Further, we’re told that Jesus knew “that He had come from God, and that He was going to God.” In other words, His sense of identity and His sense of destiny were fully established in His heart and mind. He knew who He was, He knew where He was going, and He knew His place of power. Therefore, He chose to exercise that power in the loving activity of serving His friends, even to the ultimate service of giving His life for their redemption. He would pour His own life out for them in anticipation of the day to come when His power and authority would be established in fact before all people.
It is this posture of serving others from a place of strength that the Bible calls “meekness.” The term literally means “gentleness,” but not in the way most of us think about being gentle. At best we think of meekness and gentleness as a quality of temperament that has more to with one’s natural personality than something that has been developed in one’s character over time. But frankly, we perceive meekness and gentleness to be associated more with weakness than with strength. We envision meekness in a person who is trying to make the best out of a hopeless situation, exercised by one who has no power options and is trying to get along by being nice.
The meekness that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 5:5 and models in John 13:1-5 is not primarily about being nice. It is a character quality that chooses humility because humility is God’s way. Meekness causes someone to do the right thing because it is right, but with a gentle style rooted in true strength. It is strength under discipline, a gentleness built upon the solid foundation of understanding one’s revealed identity and destiny rooted in the sovereign love of God. Meekness is not a trait that many are born with, but rather one that is developed through years of forming and shaping by the Spirit of God. It is not an optional character trait, but one that is essential in coming to possess true power, for Jesus promised that the earth itself will be given as an inheritance to the meek ones.
What we must come to understand in our journey to reach our power potential is that Jesus’ value system is really the way things are going to be established at the end of the day. All other strategies for power will fail, and only His methods will be found to be true. Therefore, to pursue power with wisdom and the certainty of attaining it is to pursue it in the way Jesus promises to give it. Power will be given as an inheritance to those who embrace His character and His methods, and that includes the character trait of meekness.