Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Meekness

Every once in a while I feel compelled to explain why I use the word meek to describe the work I do and the movement I’m trying to start through this blog, my books and my public speaking.  As I say in the introduction to “Meekonomics; How to Inherit The Earth and Live Life to the Fullest in God’s Economy”; meek is one of those bible words we don’t use in regular conversation anymore and as a result it has lost much of its meaning.

This past week I finally started reading Dietrich Bonheoffer’s seminal work on the Christian life; “The Cost of Discipleship”.

Originally published in 1937, at the height of Nazi Germany, it’s a clarion call directed at German Christians to reject the godless politics of National Socialism and return to an uncompromisingly orthodox understanding of scripture.  It’s precisely this kind of writing and preaching that landed Bonhoeffer in a jail and saw him hanged by the Nazi’s just two weeks before the allied armies would have liberated him.  That, and the fact that he was implicated in a plot to murder Hitler could apparently get you killed in the 1940s, go figure.

Now, over seventy years after it was first published, and in a Christian culture dominated by right wing political ideology, the message of “The Cost of Discipleship” remains just as relevant as it was in Hitler’s Germany, and for a book written in a different era, it’s a surprisingly easy read.

Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of Matthew 5:5, which I base most of my writing on, is perhaps the most clearly profound explanation of this biblical passage I’ve ever read.  I don’t poach the work of other authors very often but I’d like to take this opportunity to quote Bonhoeffer at length and allow his writing to speak for itself.

“Blessed are the meek:  for they shall inherit the earth.”  This community of strangers possesses no inherent right of its own to protect its members in the world, nor do they claim such rights, for they are meek, they renounce every right of their own and live for the sake of Jesus Christ.  When reproached, they hold their peace; when treated with violence they endure it patiently; when men drive them from their presence, they yield their ground.  They will not go to law to defend their rights, or make a scene when they suffer injustice, nor do they insist on their legal rights.  They are determined to leave their rights to God alone – non cupidi vindicate, as the ancient Church paraphrased in.  Their right is in the will of their Lord – that and no more.  They show by every word and gesture that they do not belong to the earth.  Leave heaven to them, says the world in its pity, that is where they belong.  But Jesus says; “They shall inherit the earth.”  To these, the powerless and the disenfranchised, the very earth belongs.  Those who now posses it by violence and injustice shall lose it, and those who here have utterly renounced it, who were meek to the point of the cross, shall rule the new earth.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer; The Cost of Discipleship

I really have nothing to add.  Instead I challenge you to meditate on that for a bit and ask yourself; are you ready to inherit the earth?

Have You Been Pickled?

I know, weird question, let me explain.

One of the central pillars of Meekonomics is to help people direct and focus their resources in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[Matthew 28:18-20]

Lately in the discussions I’ve been having about this I’ve noticed there are two words in that passage that many people don’t quite know the meaning of.  The ambiguity that this incomplete understanding creates can have a profound effect on the way we go about fulfilling our roll in this commissioning.

The first of these words is disciple.

The New Testament Greek that is most often translated as disciple is the verb maqhthv (math-e-tes). In other ancient Greek writings maqhthv is often translated as an intense form of learning such as apprentice.  So to better understand what is meant by the term disciple I find it helpful to think in terms of the more common vernacular.

Now it’s important to note that an apprentice (or disciple) is not merely a student.  Traditionally, especially in the ancient world, an apprentice was legally bound to the master for the period of his learning and in many societies apprenticeship was tantamount to bonded slavery.  The job of the apprentice was to totally immerse himself in the life and teaching of the master until their work became as much like the master’s as possible. This technique of learning and teaching was so effective that today it is possible to trace various “schools” or styles of craftsmanship such as stone masonry back hundreds of years yet almost impossible to determine individual craftsman from one generation to the next.  The process of apprenticeship has made their work virtually identical.

With this in mind a disciple or maqhthv in the context of this passage is one who is trying to become as much like Jesus as possible.  In essence Jesus is telling his followers to go and make people just like me.

The second word is baptizing.

To baptize is actually a Greek word that has been transliterated into the English language.  In other words, there is no English translation, it’s a Greek word.  The root word bapto means to dip or wash but the word used here is actually baptizo which means to submerge until permanently transformed.  Think of it this way; a pickle is a baptized cucumber, it has been submerged in the solution and permanently transformed; you can’t un-pickle a pickle.

So; Jesus has commanded us to go and apprentice people to become as much like Him as possible.  So much like Him in fact that when people look at the results of our work they can’t tell the difference between what He himself did and what generations of us have done in His name since and through that process to be permanently transformed.

So I ask you again, have you been pickled?