“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Reclaiming “meek” for the masses
While on the phone with Alicen Grey the other day, we casually drifted into a conversation about the above quote (Matthew 5:5-9). I expressed my disdain for and confusion over the choice of the word “meek.” In modern parlance, it’s hardly a term of fortitude or mettle.
I posited that all the powers that shouldn’t be — over the millennia — profited well by convincing people that meekness was a pious choice. This would make it much, much easier for the Vampire Class™ to dominate.
Alicen looked up the original Hebrew word for “meek” and discovered it was “anava” — denoting humility, humbleness, and modesty. More specifically, it means “someone who is afflicted or bearing a heavy burden”
We were getting warmer.
Meek, in the context of anava, is a characteristic earned by rising about hardship. You’re not a servile follower but rather, a resourceful survivor who is up for a challenge or three.
I hadn’t pondered a Bible verse this much since I was in Catholic high school but I loved the urge to do the detective work.
Later, I consulted a popular search engine and found an avalanche of folks ever ready to interpret Bible verses. But then, to my surprise, I learned that none other than Jordan Peterson (probably the first time I’ve ever mentioned him in my writing) had also mused on this topic. He found solace in the ancient Greek word “praus” which means meek — but not as we use it today.
Consider something I learned from a Bible study site:
“Aristotle said that the praus man is the one who has the virtue of the mean between two extremes. If there were a continuum with recklessness on one end and cowardice on the other end, the right virtue in the middle would be courage. This is how Aristotle defined it in relation to anger. The praus person, the meek person, is the one who feels anger on the right grounds, against the right person, in the right manner, at the right moment, for the right amount of time. Notice that he didn't say: A meek person never gets angry.”
Peterson, for his purposes, rephrased it this way: “Meek is actually derived from a Greek word that meant something like ‘those who have swords and know how to use them, but keep them sheathed’.”
Suddenly, we were cooking with gas.
And remember, Jesus called himself “meek and lowly in heart” but by what modern definition is this “meek”:
So, here’s my take-home message: The meaning of the word “meek” has been changed as part of a long and comprehensive plot to turn the masses submissive and compliant. After all, if Jesus himself promised you the earth in return for being meek (2022 definition: “quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive”), who are you to rebel?
As with all things, it only requires some healthy skepticism, curiosity, and elbow grease to discover deeper, more self-loving perspectives.
You wanna win this war that’s been declared upon us? Well, that’s gonna involve steady courage, feeling anger on the right grounds, gathering some swords and learning how to use them, and flipping some tables when necessary — a.k.a. being “meek” in the best sense of the word.
Don’t let them manipulate you into surrender and passivity. Their biggest fear is that you’re gonna remember that you have all the power you need inside you.
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Jesus was a rebel against hierarchy. All of them.
It's instructive that humility has been eased out in favour of a tendentious interpretation (or possibly serial mistranslation) that encourages feckless passivity. How convenient, eh? This is the kind of thing that pushed me towards Ivan Illich, back when I was trying to make sense of the Church.