“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” – Jeremiah 17:9
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32
Finally, we continue the series on the Beatitudes, the opening statements from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, with Matthew 5:5 – “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” This one is particularly tough to write about because meekness has such a negative meaning to many people. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines meek primarily as what you are not: courageous and strong. It even references the first Beatitude accidentally, saying that being meek is being “deficient in spirit.” But as we saw in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” The dictionary gives an example of “a meek child dominated by his brothers.” A good way to start this series on “Blessed are the meek” comes from one of my favorite movies, but unfortunately one which has little to do with Christian truth.
The Malevolent Incarnation
In The Matrix, humanity has been imprisoned inside a computer simulation by artificially intelligent machines. A group of rebels are fighting within and without the simulation to free humanity, and the machines created super-powered Agents to track down and destroy rebels within the Matrix, which is what the simulated world is called. These Agents hate the Matrix, which to humanity is their “real” world. Hugo Weaving plays Agent Smith, the main Agent in the story, who says:
“I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This reality, whatever you want to call it, I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I’ve somehow been infected by it. It’s — it’s repulsive! Isn’t it? I must get out of here. I must get free…”
Agent Smith is a “Malevolent Incarnation,” an artificial intelligence who took on human form to represent the rulers of the Matrix, and his job was to make sure humanity stayed enslaved, which required brutally suppressing any rebellion. What Smith couldn’t stand however was “the smell”! His biggest motivation was to get the rebels in line so he could leave the world behind. Agent Smith’s objective was to keep mankind imprisoned in a set of rules.
The Ambivalent Incarnation
Set against Agent Smith in the story is Neo, played by Keanu Reeves (“whoa!”), who wants to liberate mankind from rules altogether. At the end of the movie, he says to the rulers of the Matrix: “I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible.” The contrast of these characters is a thinly veiled expression of atheistic Marxism, which argues that rules (particularly religious ones) exist only as an expression of power, particularly the power of “oppressors” which must be overthrown.
It’s no wonder why meekness has a negative association for many people, if authority figures are portrayed as malevolent oppressors, and our heroes are ambivalent, requiring nothing of us, so we can avoid being meek, pursuing whatever we want (even if it leaves an odor). It is also undeniable that many rulers throughout history, including religious ones, have been malevolent. Therefore, freedom good; rules bad. Simple.
But it’s not that simple. When Neo destroys Agent Smith in the end, the audience cheers, but if Neo is the hero of a “world without rules”, where does his authority over Agent Smith come from? Agent Smith should be Exhibit A that letting everyone live as they please leads directly to oppression by the powerful, because this ethic does nothing to cure self-interest. It only encourages it. Under Neo’s “world without rules,” who rules Agent Smith? He rules himself, and as we know, he hates all of mankind. Also, what if Neo turns into a malevolent oppressor? His own ethical system does nothing to stop him, and he’s more powerful than everyone else. In the famous Latin phrase: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchmen?
Wonderful Counselor Redux
Merriam-Webster thinks being meek is undeniably a negative, but in reality, the value of meekness depends on who or what you are meek towards. Do we often think about or realize who or what is guiding us? We all submit to something, even if it’s our own desires, but is the thing we’re submitting to malevolent, ambivalent, or benevolent? In my recent Christmas series, I wrote about Jesus as Wonderful Counselor (here). I encourage you to read that if you have not already, or even read it again, because we are blessed by God through meekness because He is Wonderful. This series will expand on that post.