May 26, 2010

Misunderstanding Meekness

2010 1515 page23 capVEN IF YOUR TV ISN"T CONSTANTLY TUNED TO THE ESPN FAMILY OF ?networks, you might have heard of “The Brawl.” If not, allow me to horrify you briefly.
“The Brawl” took place November 19, 2004, near the end of the fourth quarter of a National Basketball Association (NBA) game between the hometown Detroit Pistons and visiting Indiana Pacers. With less than a minute remaining, Pistons center Ben Wallace drove hard to the basket. As he went up for a ferocious dunk, Pacers forward Ron Artest came down hard on Wallace’s upper back.
Upon gaining control of his body, Wallace took a moment to stare down Artest threateningly. Then the near-seven-footer pushed Artest—a large man himself—so hard that he flew back almost 10 feet, barely keeping his footing. As usually happens when fights break out in team sports, the benches cleared and tempers flared.
2010 1515 page23As players traded verbal jabs and harmless pushes, Artest oddly lay down on the announcer’s table. Just as things seemed to be cooling down, a fan in the stands launched a cup filled with soda at Artest.
Immediately Artest and other members of both teams charged into the stands, trading blows with spectators like they were reenacting Wrestlemania. Cups continued to fly—even a chair was hurled at a player. Pistons coach Larry Brown grabbed the microphone and urged his own team’s fans to “leave the players alone!”
But the damage had been done. Even the referees had fled the scene, effectively ending the game. As Artest was escorted out of the arena a Pacers assistant coach tried to shelter him from objects being tossed from the stands.
A few days later the NBA suspended Artest for the rest of the season. Players from both sides were suspended a total of 146 games, with fines and loss of salaries totaling more than $11 million. It was, perhaps, the most revolting scene in modern sports history. With every escalating action, each individual gave in to retaliation.
Blessed Are the Meek—Really?
I’ve come to a conclusion: Most of the world completely misunderstands what it means to be meek. Think about it: our culture applauds love, joy, peace, kindness, etc. Though they’re not always exemplified, even non-Christians view these as goals worthy of aspiring to. Meekness, on the other hand, is usually misinterpreted or forgotten altogether.
Although “The Brawl” is an extreme example, it is a microcosm of the sports landscape. In the 2008-2009 National Hockey League season, 734 fights broke out between 355 players during 173 different games. Sadly, such aggression isn’t confined to professional athletes. Across the nation there have been incidents of parents berating, beating, even killing little league coaches for simply taking their children out of a game. In city league softball and basketball games fights break out over whether a runner was safe or who touched the ball last.
In everything from sports to climbing the corporate ladder, our society praises aggression—?especially in men—citing it as a characteristic of the strong and mighty. Though Jesus said “Blessed are the meek” (Matt. 5:5), most translate that “Blessed are the weak.”
But there’s nothing cowardly about being meek. In fact, exhibiting meekness takes far more strength than physically overcoming an opponent.
Rather than backing down, Jesus asks us to resist repaying evil with evil—forgiving unconditionally, knowing how much we’ve been forgiven. Perhaps when we face opposition—even in competition—we’re supposed to treat our opponents as comrades in Christ, rather than as enemies.
In the heat of battle—whether you’re on the court or in the office—genuine meekness is the ?personification of true strength. 
A proud Nebraskan, Jimmy Phillips writes from Bakersfield, California, where he is marketing and communication coordinator for San Joaquin Community Hospital. This article was published May 27, 2010.