Written by Rev’d Mike Kunzinger
In Nicomachean Ethics book III, Aristotle writes, “The appetite of a self-controlled man is directed at the right objects, in the right way, and at the right time; and this is what reason prescribes.” Here Aristotle addresses self-indulgence, the appetitive elements of the self, and the need for our appetites to be governed/ subjected to “the ruling element” lest we be led astray. In a day and age where, at least in the western world, we have conveniences and comforts that are unprecedented by those who have gone before us, these are perhaps words to be heeded—not just an ancient need, but there is a timeless, and modern need for self-mastery, a check to see if indeed our appetites are directed to the “right objects, in the right way, at the right time.” The purpose of tempering, according to Aristotle, is to do what is “noble.”
In psychoanalytic or Freudian terms, a loss of self-mastery would mean that the Id is in control. The Id, not kept in check by the ego and super-ego hence, a giving over to the indulgent self. I hear the word “binge” used often, as if it is an action that should be aspired to, a type of normative behavior that comes off as necessary if you really want to enjoy yourself. We now speak of television shows being “binge worthy.” Why temper your appetite for entertainment when you can, well, binge?
What might a future without self-control look like? Where binge worthy is applied to more than just our favorite shows. Two pictures: Perhaps it would look a lot like what Aldous Huxley portrayed in A Brave New World; as Neil Postman has written, “Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism”, that society would be controlled by “inflicting pleasure” (emphasis mine).
Secondly, this scenario, our desires unfettered and running wild would create, I would venture to guess, the dystopian future that is displayed in the Pixar movie WALL-E. In WALL-E everyone becomes infantile, seemingly only governed by impulse; their desires reach their logical telos—humanity disconnected, apathetic, distracted, obese, and in their disinterest for anything other than the self, consequently, has done absolute violence to their home planet. Violence has been done to such an extent that humanity finds itself in interstellar exile. The hope of humanity is found now in a robot. In WALL-E men and women have successfully made earth one large dump—Earth has become uninhabitable.
So, what does any of this have to do with Matthew 5:5? —Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Jesus, in his sermon, is giving the earth to a people who exemplify a, might we say, noble quality albeit, not seen as noble during the time of Christ, or in our time (which champions will to power), but rather, it is viewed as a deplorable quality. The word noble speaks to an ideal. We could say acting nobly is to portray a quality of being that is fit for a kingdom, viz., meekness—the king himself being meek par excellence. This King, Jesus, describes himself as meek. In the Holy Gospel according to Matthew Jesus says:
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”Matthew 11:29
Those that gather around this King, who find that they are meek, will have an inheritance. This is not something (meekness) that these listening to Jesus’ message can will themselves into. It is not a thing to be obtained; for the listeners it is a place where they would find themselves. The Kingdom that Jesus comes to bring is one that is a reversal of the structures of the age, antithetical to the economy of Rome. This kingdom is open to all, those who find themselves without power, prestige, protection and position—those who cannot do for themselves, these are who are blessed, and these have a heritage.
Meekness is a gift, one that is cherished by this Messianic King. This gift however, is a gift that is one that the disciples at large are admonished to exemplify—unlike the other beatitudes e.g., mourning, being poor in spirit, persecution, etc.; so, we zoom out from focusing directly on the immediate context.
An exemplar of meekness was Moses. Moses was a noble man; he was the adopted son of Pharaoh. Moses was called the meekest of anyone on the earth. Numbers 12:3:
“Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.”Numbers 12:3
Moses was the man who was appointed by God to take the people into the land, the Promised Land. This Old Testament character, that was “very meek” was given the promise of the land, just as those who have the gift of meekness will also inherit land (the earth). If you know the narrative of Moses, then you know that he was ultimately prohibited from going into the land. Why? God didn’t allow him to inherit the land because he did violence to the land—he struck the land, a rock in particular, he struck instead of spoke (an act of disobedience). That which was the hallmark of Moses’ character is violated as he strikes the rock in an anger outburst—a temporary lapse of self-control costing him his entrance into the land; Moses failed to keep in-step with his meekness.
God chose this meek man to lead his people, out of slavery, into new land. Those who are meek are able to “tame” their impulses—specifically those impulses that would due violence. To practice meekness is to be able to subdue the self in a way where one is not destructive; where one is able to be at harmony. In the frustrating task of leadership, and Moses was frustrated to the point of being suicidal (Numbers 11:13-15), this job, this calling, would require the meekest of individuals.
The apostle Paul makes an appeal to the Colossians and says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). Meekness is not not having power; it is a restraint of power; if any of us fail to “put on meekness” then we are poised to do violence to the land (earth), others, and ourselves—either wittingly or unwittingly (go back to WALL-E). Maybe the meek have an inheritance of the earth because they are those who have a gentleness, kindness with the earth/land already. I am reminded of Wendell Berry’s quote from The Gift of Good Land:
“To live we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently (might I add meekly), it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.”Wendell Berry
As Christ’s disciples, it takes meekness to learn, to be taught, to be teachable. It takes meekness to “put on” meekness. May we learn from Jesus, learn from his meekness, his kindness, so that we too may be a people who, while we “break the body of creation”, might do so sacramentally.
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Mike Kunzinger holds a Master of Arts in Religion, as well as a Master of Arts in Counseling. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He has worked in the mental health field, providing counseling, for 17 years. Mike has worked in many diverse settings, which include private counseling clinics, churches, treatment facilities, group homes, psychiatric units (adult and adolescent), as well as the University setting. Mike server as the Executive Director of Student Counseling Services at Liberty University. He is also a priest in the Anglican Church of North America serving at Church of the Good Shepherd in Lynchburg, VA.