At first glance, meekness may be the most unattractive Christian virtue. Today, many people think of “meekness as weakness,” the antithesis of the “holy” self-assertion that enables us to get our own way. We picture a meek person as a wimp or doormat, not as a virile, Christian man.
Yet, those of us who are serious about following the Lord and growing in Christian virtue know that the Bible presents a different image of meekness. Our faith extols meekness not only as a desirable virtue, but also as a beatitude and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Moses, who boldly delivered an entire nation from bondage, is described in Scripture as the meekest of men (Num. 12:3).
Surely Jesus Himself embodied all the virtues, but when it comes to meekness, there can be no doubt. He says, “Learn from me; for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29). Not only is Our Lord meek, but He also expects us to imitate His meekness. This message is for everybody, but in a special way it goes out to today’s men, for whom meekness sadly is a rare commodity.
We can often come to a richer understanding of words by examining their roots. Virtue (in Latin, virtus) is derived from the Latin word vir, which means man. Virtue, therefore, has historically been understood as implying a manly strength.
Meekness, sometimes used interchangeably with “gentleness” in biblical translations, comes from the Greek word prautes, meaning “not easily provoked.” This in turn comes from praus, which refers to a highly spirited trained horse. Such a horse has become so gentle and mild that a child may pet it or ride on its back. But the more important thing is that the horse no longer thrashes about wildly, but rather has been trained to take direction. The strength of the noble steed has been harnessed for good, not forfeited. Similarly, a harnessed river can generate power, and a harnessed or “meeked” fire can heat a campsite. Meekness, even in its etymology, has always implied harnessed strength, not weakness.
Applied to the human virtue, meekness implies an openness to God that allows Him to act through us, particularly at those times when our fallen nature might lead us to thrash about wildly. Meekness indeed involves a certain gentleness toward our neighbor, but it primarily applies to our relationship with God, as we daringly acquiesce to His harnessing of our gifts and talents for our own good and the good of His Church. Continue reading