READ : Matthew 5:5
Have you ever aspired to meekness? I know people who want to be successful, strong, smart, and influential, but I don’t know many who want to be meek. Yet Jesus says this is an important part of the good life.
What sort of person comes to mind when you hear the adjective meek? I can’t help but think of Clement Atlee, which is probably unfair. I hardly know anything about him beyond the fact that he was a British politician who had the misfortune to be the political opponent of Winston Churchill. Churchill once described him as “a modest little man with much to be modest about,” and on another occasion he called Atlee “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” (It did not pay to be the target of Churchill’s acid wit.)
That pretty much sums up the word meek for me. To be meek is to be sheep-like. A meek person is not very bold, not very outgoing, not very forceful, not very stimulating, not very exciting, not very enterprising – not very much use to anybody. A meek man is a man who sits down when he should stand up, who runs away when he should advance. I picture someone short and mousy, with a weak chin and a limp grip, who talks in a small little voice and never looks you in the eye. Isn’t that what it means to be one of the meek of the earth? At least that’s what I think of.
Well, there’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that Jesus pronounces a blessing on the meek. If you want to enjoy God’s favor, then meekness is one of the qualities you have to strive for. “God resists the proud,” says the Bible, “but gives his grace to the humble” – that is, to the lowly-minded, to those who don’t think they’re big shots or act like they’re more important than anyone else, to the gentle in spirit; in short, to the meek. Meekness is a component in the good life, so if you want to live the way God intends you to live, you have to be meek.
That’s the bad news. But the good news is that meekness isn’t what we think it is.
MEEK, NOT WEAK
For starters, “meek” does not mean “weak.” The picture Jesus had in mind when he said “Blessed are the meek” was very different from the one I have been describing just now. When Jesus commends those who are meek and lists this quality as one of the components of the life that God favors, he was not thinking of shy wall flowers or modest little people with much to be modest about.
Instead, he may have had in mind a biblical model of meekness. If one searches the Bible for examples of meekness, the results are rather startling. Two people are specifically described by this adjective. The first one, from the Old Testament, is Moses – hardly an example of a timid weakling. I don’t think anybody would describe Moses as shy or retiring, and yet the Bible calls him the meekest, the most humble, man on the face of the earth. (That’s the word used of him in Numbers 12:3.) So apparently this quality of meekness is not incompatible with being a strong person, and even a great leader.
And the New Testament example of meekness is Jesus himself, who is just about the farthest thing imaginable from a coward. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden,” he once said, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:28,29 kjv). Modern versions of the Bible render the last part of this beautiful invitation as, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart “ (niv).
So to be meek does not mean to be weak or wimpy. It doesn’t turn you into either a chicken or a sheep. To be meek is to be gentle, generous in spirit, courteous and humble. It is to be non-aggressive, non-self-assertive. Meekness is a mark not of weakness but of great strength, self-control and poise. One expert on the Beatitudes points to the example of Jesus, specifically to the way Jesus behaved when he was tried for his life, as the best illustration of true meekness. When we read the account of Jesus before his accusers, we cannot help but be struck by Jesus’ calm and gentle strength, despite the fact that he is apparently helpless and powerless. Even though he makes no attempt to defend himself against the attacks of his enemies, Jesus is anything but weak. “The overall impression of Jesus on trial is an impression of poise. It is a poise born of not having to assert oneself in order to be strong. It is the poise of faith. There is a meekness that is almighty and a gentleness that is strong” (F. Dale Bruner). That is a wonderful thought. Once upon a time our society defined a gentleman as someone who was of gentle or noble birth. But long before that Jesus was a true gentleman: quiet and humble in spirit, readily forgiving, calmly confident, relying on God’s power to defend him, trusting in God’s wisdom to vindicate him. Too bad that more of us are not meek like Jesus was; life would be a lot more pleasant and tolerable with a little more of this quality in evidence. We need more true gentlemen – and gentle-women – in the world.
THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH
If the quality that Jesus commends in this beatitude is surprising to us, the reward he promises for it is astonishing. He promises that the meek will take over the whole earth. The particular blessing that Jesus pronounces upon those who are gentle is that they will receive the world and everything in it! “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Now that is a truly unexpected ending to a most unlikely blessing. This is simply not the way things work in our world. We know from experience that this is not how things go. If you were looking for a salesman to develop a new market, or a general to conquer a new territory, or a politician to lead a new movement, would you include meekness among the indispensable qualifications? I don’t think so. It’s not the gentle and the lowly who get ahead in the world. They don’t get the corner office and the most impressive title; they can never buy the house in the best neighborhood. It’s the aggressive, the ambitious, the domineering, the “go-getters,” who receive all those things. Everybody agrees about that, whether they are left-wing revolutionaries or right-wing capitalists. The earth is for the powerful, the worldly-wise, and the grasping. It’s for those who can fight, particularly those who can attack. They’re the ones who get what they want. You can’t win if you don’t play to win. And as for the meek, they’re not even in the game.
Once during the Second World War someone suggested that the Catholic church might be of some help in opposing Naziism, whereupon the Soviet dictator Stalin asked contemptuously, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” That’s a perfect illustration of the way worldly people see things. The humble and gentle and meek and spiritual are of no account whatever to the hard-headed realists of the world. They do nothing on earth, gain nothing, get nothing, are good for nothing except to be trodden under. And as for their reward, well, let them have heaven! If there is such a place, they’re welcome to it! Yet Jesus promises them the earth. Can he possibly be right?
THE WORLD BELONGS TO GOD
Well, consider this: what you own is not the same as what you have. All the things you think of as belonging to you may not be yours to keep for long. Our present system of possession is only a temporary arrangement, because riches corrode, earthly glory fades, worldly property and goods perish. Listen again carefully to what Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Did you catch that? The earth isn’t something to be conquered, but inherited. It’s not there for the taking; it’s there for the giving. The world belongs to God. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” exclaims the psalmist (Ps. 24:1). It is God’s to give to whomever he chooses.
All the things we think are ours are actually his. In this life God lends us things for a little while, setting us over our property and possessions as his stewards. But nothing we have is really ours or a permanent possession – at least not until God settles upon us our eternal inheritance. Jesus told a story once about a master who entrusted large sums of money to each of three servants before going off on a long journey. When he returned the master called each servant to give an account, and when he found that one of them had wasted his opportunity and ignored his responsibility, the master took all his money back and gave it to someone else. Someday there is going to be a cosmic redistribution of eternal wealth. It would be best for you and me not to consider ourselves well-off until we see just how we fare in that judgment.
You see, in this beatitude Jesus is letting us in on God’s little joke, or perhaps I should say, God’s big joke. The joke is on all the aggressors and terrorists and revolutionaries. It’s on all the misers and selfish entrepreneurs and capitalists, all those on the left or the right who think that they can win the world (or at least seize and hold a part of the earth), who believe that by their will and their skill they can carve out a personal empire over which they can rule as a little lord. God’s joke is that it’s the meek who will inherit the earth. The first will be last, and the last will be first. The fast track to success ends up heading nowhere, for God owns the earth, and he’s planning to make it over in a new and improved version soon to be introduced. What’s more, he has decided to give everything to his Son’s friends!
There’s an old saying my father used to like to quote. I can remember him many times looking at some wonderful earthly scene, whether it was a lavish meal or a lovely landscape, and exclaiming, “All this and heaven too!” That’s a lovely thought, but you know, it’s equally true if you turn it around. As Christians, looking around us at the good things of earth, we can say, “All heaven and this too!” You see, this earth, the world with all its beauties and pleasures finally purged of sin is the promised reward for every believer in Jesus Christ. If you’re a follower of Jesus, if you, like him, are striving to be humble and gentle and meek and lowly minded, then God will not just give you eternal life. He’s going to throw a new universe in just for the fun of it. I, for one, can’t wait to see what that’s going to be like.