Who of us wants to be called meek? That alone should tell us how distanced from this virtue our contemporary lives have become. We think of “meek” as meaning “deficient in spirit or courage.” Two other definitions are offered by Merriam-Webster, both of which better approach the biblical virtue: “not violent or strong” and “enduring injury with patience and without resentment.”
Those are the characteristics that Christ uses to describe himself, and we understand them best if we remember that all true love must be meek. Love cannot be violent, cannot force itself; love must endure injury with patience and without resentment.
Love cannot be violent, cannot force itself; love must endure injury with patience and without resentment.
Although it won the 1928 Nobel Prize for Literature, Sigrid Undset’s medieval trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter is not much read today, but there is a beautiful passage in the second book about Christ the Bridegroom. A priest, Gunnulf Nikulaussön, tells Kristin, a young wife and mother, what drew him to the Lord. It was, what he called, the meekness of the bridegroom, whose love will never seize us nor cease pursuing us, even through the fires of purgatory.
For He loved mankind. And therefore did He die, as the bridegroom who hath gone forth to save his bride from the hands of robbers. And they bind him and torment him unto death, while he sees his dearest love sit feasting with his slayers, jesting with them and mocking his torments and his faithful love—
Then did I understand that this mighty love upholdeth all things in the world—even the fires of hell. For if God would, He could take the soul by force—we should be strengthless motes in His hand. But He loves us as the bridegroom loves his bride, who will not force her, but if she yield not to him willingly, must suffer that she flee him and shun him. But I have thought, too, that mayhap no soul can yet be lost to all eternity. For every soul must desire this love, methinks, but it seem so dear a purchase to give up other delights for its sake. But when the fire hath burnt away all stiff-necked and rebellious will, then at last shall the will to God, were it no greater in a man than a single nail in a whole house, remain in the soul unconsumed, as the iron nail is left in the ashes of a house burned down—.
The Bridegroom comes to woo, not to master.
The Prophet Zechariah knew that the Messiah would not come in power or employ violence. The Bridegroom comes to woo, not to master.
See, your king shall come to you;
a just savior is he,meek, and riding on an ass,
on a colt, the foal of an ass (9:9).
And so, Jesus calls to us, like a gentle lover:
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 (Mt 11: 28-30).
Jesus remains among us as the meek bridegroom, who calls to us but will not coerce us, who continues to reveal his love in the most subtle, most meek of ways.
Gunnulf spoke of God “with white face and flaming eyes,” frightening Kristin. He admits:
I too was afraid. For I understood that this torment of God’s love can have no end so long as man and maid are born upon this earth and He must be fearful that He may lose their souls—so long as He daily and hourly giveth His body and His blood on a thousand altars—and there are men who scorn the offering…
And I was afraid to think of myself, that unclean had served at His altar, said mass with unclean lips and lifted Him with unclean hands—and methought I was even as the man who brought his beloved to a house of shame and betrayed her—.
The priest then tells the young wife, “Kristin, never can you content you with any lesser love than that is between God and the soul. God will find you.” Reassuring her, he adds, “Be still, and fly not from Him who hath sought after you before you were conceived in your mother’s womb.”
Words of wisdom. Strive to be still. Strive to be meek. The Bridegroom will find you, for his love never tires.
Readings: Zechariah 9:9-10 Romans 8:9, 11-13 Matthew 11:25-30