In getting ready for our Lent series, focusing on water, I thought of an observation by the ancient Chinese philosopher Laozi. He noted that water is the softest of all substances and yet the strongest. Water is gentle and follows the form of whatever solid surface it falls upon. Yet, when water comes in enough capacity it can be violent and destructive, or with enough persistence, over time, can carve canyons through rocks.
In that sense water is a good symbol for the Christian life. A life that follows Jesus certainly models meekness. Like the lyric of the hymn: "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, Look upon the little child; Pity my simplicity, Suffer Me to come to thee." As followers of Christ we are called to let our lives form around others as Jesus did for us. Yet, there is also the mighty side of grace. Jesus was firm and unflinching at times. Gentle Jesus turned over the tables of money-changers and drove them out of the temple with a whip. He firmly held his ground with religious authorities. He was meek and mighty.
It's easy at times to feel pressed into being one or the other. Some would say being faithful means always being gentle and easy. Yet, without the balance, meekness becomes passivity, condoning, and getting run over. Others would say being faithful is always about conviction and holding onto your position no matter what. Yet, pure mightiness can become stubbornness, self-righteousness, and even hurtfulness. Holding the tension together is not easy, which I believe is what makes the way of the cross a narrow path.
Someone who walked that path is Abraham Lincoln. He held firm to his convictions and paid a price. His faith kept him from relenting in the advancement of legislation to free slaves. His critics found him stubborn and impossible to negotiate with. Yet, there was this other side to him.
One of my favorite Lincoln stories involves a decision to be gentle in the treatment of some Confederate leaders. One of his cabinet members said, "Mr. President, your job is not to befriend the enemy but destroy them!" Lincoln responded, "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friend?"
Usually when we say something has been "watered down," it means it has been weakened. I would say when it comes to living in Jesus’ way of life, being watered down means to live in the tension of being both meek and mild.