Don’t Let the Stink Stop You – Blessed are the Meek #5

Since it’s been nearly 3 months since the last post on the topic, here’s a review of the series on meekness[1] so far.  The first two posts contrasted two characters from the movie The Matrix, Agent Smith and Neo, to Jesus.  Agent Smith was the “Malevolent Incarnation,” who used and enforced rules to keep people in their place.  Smith can’t stand the stink of humanity and just wants to be free of it.  Neo, the hero of the Matrix series, is the “Ambivalent Incarnation” who wants to free mankind from rules, but otherwise wants to let them be as they are.  However, under Neo’s no-rules philosophy of “everyone should do what they want,” there is no foundation from which to object to anything someone else does, including brutal oppression.  Any objection is also an objection to the same philosophy Neo claims to hold, and “no city or house divided against itself will stand.”[2]

Jesus, contrasted to these, is the “Benevolent Incarnation.”  Jesus is more aware of the problems that make Agent Smith repulsed by us and that make him want to control us, but He also does not leave us alone with no way to overcome our problems.  He rules us for our good, and because we cannot meet His perfect standard, He lived it in our place, then died to cover the cost of our failure.  He wants to fix our stink, not because He hates us as Agent Smith does, but because He loves us in spite of our stink.  He refuses to allow us to stink forever, as Neo would.  He is benevolent, not malevolent or ambivalent.

Meekness is the third step in the Beatitudes, an intentionally sequential series of statements that describe what’s involved in following God, like gears in a machine: “First, being poor in spirit means that we have emptied ourselves of all illusions that our plans are better than God’s.  Second, mourning the state of ourselves and our world means we are emotionally engaged.  That we care.  In the third Beatitude, being meek is where we begin to engage our will, submitting it to God as our benevolent Lord.”

He wants us to also be benevolent incarnations, however we often don’t want to engage the third gear of meekness, where “the rubber meets the road” so to speak.  But if we don’t embrace it “the first two Beatitudes alone can leave us in a place where we’re a mess and the world is a terrible place and there’s nothing we can do about any of it.  It can be a place of depression and despair.”

Martha almost found herself stuck in this place when Jesus returned to Bethany after the death of Lazarus, her brother.  Jesus found the family mourning, then: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”  (John 11:39).  Jesus intended to raise Lazarus from the dead, but for Martha the stink was all she could think of.  Patently, Jesus encouraged her, the stone covering the entrance to the tomb was moved, and Lazarus walked out of the grave alive!

Don’t Let the Stink Stop You
Does the stench of sin keep us from being meek?  Do we, like Agent Smith, just want people to behave so we can go about our way?  Or does our obedience come first?  Jesus wants us to live as He lived, but we only can if we accept His righteousness and become invested in it at all levels of our being.  If we are truly poor in spirit and mourn our sin, what’s stopping us?

God won’t tell us to move the stone from Lazarus’ grave – that was Martha’s task. It also was not Jesus’ task.  We don’t do what Jesus would do, but what He would have us do.  He could have moved the stone Himself, but He wanted Martha to participate in His work, but to do that she had to be willing to be uncomfortable.

We all are often in Martha’s place, struggling with what Jesus wants us to do.  He asks us to do things that don’t make sense to us, that don’t make sense to the world, and sometimes it stinks (sometimes literally).  Jesus wants to bring His people to life, as He did with Lazarus, but there may be a stone He wants you to move, and it will only move if you have faith in Him stronger than the stink involved.

Meekness is the Cross
Meekness means carrying the cross the Father assigns to us.  For Jesus it was taking on all the sin of the world, not just by His death on a literal cross, but also by proactively taking on the consequences of it for the benefit of others.  We stink but He did not leave us alone.  For us, carrying the cross involves taking on some of the stink of the world, stepping into the suffering of others and offering the life that only Jesus can give.  What an amazing contrast this is to what’s so common today: pointing out sin everywhere and demanding those “other sinners” pay the price, or demanding that government solve the problem somehow, or withdrawing from problems that seem too big to do anything about.

Is there a stinky situation you’re aware of, but avoiding?  Being meek toward Jesus means we’re on board with His plan of salvation and willing to do our part, whatever that is.  Sometimes all that’s needed to bring someone life is moving a stone and enduring the odor.  While the smell was enough for Martha to hesitate, to Jesus it was part of the cost of living and dying for us.  He was willing to bear it, and if we meekly move the stone, Jesus will do the rest.


Post Script
Sometimes I put off writing thinking the time is better spent on the people and situations right in front of me.  Is hiding behind a screen and keyboard just an avoidance tactic?  At other times I know that each person’s meekness includes a response to their own calling and use of their specific gifts: “if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching.” (Romans 12:7). Meekness is difficult, and I pray we all find better balance as we grow in Christ.  Do the things God calls you to, even if it stinks sometimes!


[1] If you have the time, the previous posts are here: [1], [2], [3], and [4].  But I’ll summarize here as best I can.
[2] Matthew 12:25

The Meaning of the Bible in Sign Language

As a hearing child of deaf parents myself, I was thrilled earlier this week to see the movie CODA win best picture, deaf actor Troy Kotsur win best supporting actor, and Siân Heder win for best adapted screenplay.  CODA stands for Children of Deaf Adults and the story centers around Ruby Rossi, a hearing teenage girl who is an amazing singer but is the only hearing member of her family.  There are good lessons in the movie about overcoming differences and obstacles through some compassion and creativity.

It was a great movie but be aware: “Mr. Kotsur used the versatility of sign language to enhance Frank’s dialogue, which is sometimes salty enough to push the limits on the movie’s PG-13 rating.”[1]  There’s one scene in particular where Frank Rossi embarrasses his daughter Ruby in front of a boy with some improvised, erotic sign language.  Versatility has negatives but also positives…

My last post, focused on love, showed how multiple words for love in Greek conceal layers of meaning when translated to English.  After watching CODA, I was reminded of an example where the expressiveness of sign language also adds layers of meaning beyond spoken English. (maybe spoken English is just a bad language?)  Not all sign language is the same – there are many dialects – but the sign for Bible I use is actually two signs: “Jesus” followed by “book.”  Every time I sign what I would just speak as “Bible,” there’s a reminder built right in that the Bible is a book about Jesus.  From start to finish, the Bible is a record of why He needed to come, what He was like when He did, and what His followers should believe, know, and do.  Jesus Christ is described right in the sign for Bible!

But there’s still another layer.  In the book of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul defends his ministry saying that his message needs to focus on “Christ crucified”[2], not on performing miracles to those who want signs and impressing with fancy speech those who love wisdom.  To sign “Jesus”, I touch the middle finger of my right hand to the palm of my left hand, then the middle finger of my left to the palm of my right.  What does that signify?  It’s an expressive reminder of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the nails that were barbarically driven into his hands.  Thomas, one of the 12 main disciples of Jesus, said after the first Easter that he would not believe Jesus had risen from the dead “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side.”  Eight days later, Jesus presented Himself to Thomas and said “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  To which Thomas replied: “My Lord and my God!”  (John 20:24-29).  I don’t know if this was intended by the person who created the sign for Jesus, but it may be a liturgy recalling this encounter, reminding us that Jesus was crucified, yet lives!

So, whenever you think of the Bible, think of it in sign language where every single time you sign it, there is a reminder that the Bible is the book about Christ crucified.  After Thomas declared who Jesus was, Jesus responded: “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Every time I sign “Bible,” it testifies to those who have not seen Jesus of what He has done for them.


One Last Thing
By the way, to sign “book” you place your hands together flat, palms facing each other, in front of you, then open them as if your hands were the front and back of a book.


[1] Jurgensen, John. “Troy Kotsur of ‘CODA’ Wins Best Supporting Actor Oscar.” The Wall Street Journal, 27 March 2022.
[2] 1 Corinthians 1:23