As our Lenten observance continues, the celebration of the Resurrection gets closer. So far, through the Gospel readings in the liturgy, we’ve moved from the desert to the mountain top. Today, we’re in Jerusalem. The Gospel reading tells us about Jesus entering the Temple. The Lord is scandalized by the deceit and mercantile nature of the moneychangers. Filled with righteous anger, he throws over the tables and chases out the merchants.
In this Third Week of Lent, therefore, we see a disturbing scene. It’s not one that matches the usual press surrounding the person of Jesus. How could he do this? Wasn’t the Lord the exemplar of meekness?
Certainly, Jesus perfects all the virtues, including meekness. With this assertion made, how are we to understand his purification of the Temple?
The answer is found in a broader and more holistic definition of meekness. Simply defined, meekness is a level-headed, clear understanding and acceptance of who we are and where we stand in relation to God, our world, and our neighbor.
Meekness shows us ourselves spiritually just as a mirror shows us ourselves physically. But meekness doesn’t just show us ourselves, it helps us to accept who we are and what we’ve been called to do in life. It is a strength of mind, heart, and body that gives us the inner resolve to claim and accept our self-identity.
Meekness shows us our sin when we’re in darkness, but also our dignity when we are feeling low or suffering humiliation. In either situation, meekness invites us to choose to live—in spite of internal or external adversity—a life of transparency and resignation.
Regrettably, meekness and strength are sometimes seen as opposing traits since the presumption is that the meek are usually weak. But in the throes of life, it is precisely meekness that gives us strength. Meekness, therefore, is a gentle strength within us. It gives us a poise that allows us to be at peace in our own skin while also empowering us to pour ourselves out in self-donation to others.
In helping us to know ourselves and our own fallenness, meekness helps us to be slow to violence and labor to settle affairs with gentle hands and tender hearts. It calls us to love our neighbors and to empathize and have compassion toward them.
In this way, Jesus’ life is a paradigm of meekness. The Lord was as meek in the purification of the Temple with the merchants as he was to the repentant woman or to the sick and suffering who sought healings, or to the children who sought his blessing.
In recognizing his divine mission, the Lord’s meekness inspired other virtues, such as justice, righteous anger, obedience, and temperance. Again, meekness isn’t about warm fuzzies, or about making ourselves and others feel good, or about being a push-over or a weakling. Meekness helps us to faithfully fulfill our vocation and the duties of our state in life. In this way, it guides us to the right virtue at the right time according to our place in the world.
In light of his vocation and the saving work entrusted to him, therefore, the Lord Jesus was completely within the realm of meekness to exercise justice, and to discipline to those who were degrading the Temple.
And so, on this Third Sunday of Lent, we see the third beatitude manifested by Jesus: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” This display is helpful for us in our own desire for a healthy interior life and for an openness to others. The event highlights what authentic meekness means and calls us to pursue it according to who we are.
Meekness should not be confused with some passive state, therefore, since it is a life-giving means for us to know and accept who we are. It’s an invitation for us to be ourselves, to labor for goodness, and to seek happiness.