Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. —Matthew 5:5
We don’t mind poverty in spirit. We don’t even mind mourning. Both can seem noble. But meekness is another matter. Who wants to be meek? Doormats get stepped on. Who wants to be known as meek? If you heard a person described as meek, you might think, “I’m so sorry.” Jesus isn’t sorry. He said, “Blessed are the meek, congratulations to the meek! They’re the lucky ones!”
As we come to this Beatitude, Jesus is pressing more deeply into our hearts. He said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). His third Beatitude is showing us how far that repentance has to go.
Here’s something we must understand about the Beatitudes. They are not a menu to choose from. They are a unified whole. It’s all or nothing. In other words, when Jesus preached this sermon on that Galilean hillside long ago, he didn’t look over to one group of people sitting there and say, “Nice to see the poor in spirit here today,” and then look at a different group and say, “Glad the mourners could get out of bed this morning,” and then look way out at the edge of the crowd and say, “You meek guys never push your way forward, but glad you could make it too.” No, the poor in spirit and the mourners and the meek are all the same people. Here’s one clue to help us see that. The first Beatitude in verse 3 says, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The last Beatitude in verse 10 again says, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Those two declarations wrap around the Beatitudes to show that they all belong together.
What’s happening in the Beatitudes is this: The real Jesus is walking us, step by step, more and more deeply into real Christianity. And if you’re like me, stepping now into meekness is not easy. I didn’t hesitate when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” I had to gulp, but I could accept it when he said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Now, here at verse 5, I feel like saying, “Lord, this isn’t funny any more!” But he means it. He will never make peace with a lie that has become firmly established in this world we’ve made, namely, the survival of the fittest, getting even, demanding your pound of flesh, and so forth. At times we’ve gone along with that lie. When we haven’t gone along with it, it hasn’t been due to meekness but maybe just cowardice. Jesus came to build a new kingdom out of this broken world of broken people like us. He wants us to know how happy he is when he sees in us living proof that we’re getting it, that we’re repenting because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And he is promising to flip world culture, so that the meek will inherit the earth. The demanding, the jealous, the resentful, the vengeful, the pushy – they have no future. But Jesus said the last will be first. We have his word on it. So let’s stay last.
Another thing, briefly. In the second line of the Beatitudes, the word “theirs” or “they” is emphatic. It could be in italics. “Blessed are the meek, for they [and they alone] shall inherit the earth.” Jesus is saying, “You think the bullies own this world. It does look that way. But don’t be fooled. Things are not what they seem. I’m the King. I have all authority in heaven and on earth, and I’m the one who decides the future of this world.”
Blessed are the meek
Aren’t there things about the Bible you wish you could change? We might be wondering, “Maybe there’s another way to translate that into English!” And there is. My lexicon of New Testament Greek says the word can mean “gentle, humble, considerate, meek, unassuming.” Even some of our English Bibles get around the word “meek.” Some translations say, “Blessed are the gentle” (NASB), “the humble” (NLT), “those who claim nothing” (Phillips). But there is a problem with all the less objectionable ways of translating this Greek word. Jesus meant to be objectionable. To translate this word as anything other than “meek” misses the point. We’re not supposed to find this attractive. We have to repent to get inside this word “meek.” Don’t we all want to be gentle and humble? We have no quarrel with that.
But how could Jesus introduce the entire Sermon on the Mount by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and then, when he rolls the kingdom out, we all find ourselves thinking, “Cool. That’s what I expected anyway”? The English translation “meek” is good, because it demands that we change. Nobody wants to be Clark Kent. Everybody wants to be Superman. That’s why we need to hear directly from the real Jesus that we’re not crazy for giving up on being Superman. Not only that, but living as Clark Kent is not some pathetic existence we have to settle for. Jesus is telling us that, contrary to the hard realities now, the meek will be the culture-shapers in his new kingdom forever, starting now. Jesus is telling us, real Christianity takes us further than “gentle” and “humble”; real Christianity makes us meek.
So, what is “meek”? Jesus. He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). What was he saying? He was saying, “I’ll do the hard part. I’ll take the demands on myself so that you don’t have to. I’m in this to give, not to take.” That’s meekness.
The apostle Peter watched Jesus live that out. Peter didn’t want to be meek any more than we do. And it took Peter a long time to get it. But he did. Years later, thinking back on his times with Jesus, especially during the final Passion Week, and Peter was there to watch, what stood out? “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to God who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). That’s meekness.
But isn’t that why we draw back from meekness? When Jesus puts meekness out on the table, it’s because life is brutal. Jesus is talking about how we respond to injustice. If we follow the real Jesus, he will not always make sure we win. Our King will allow some people to treat us badly, the same way he allowed people to treat him badly. And every one of us feels a strong sense of justice deep inside. Good. God put it there. And we should defend people for whom we are responsible – which is everybody around us. The third Beatitude does not call our President to be meek in the face of a nuclear Iran. But this Beatitude does call our President to be meek when his political enemies insult him personally. How much meekness do we see in all our politicians—the names they call each other, the way they cut each other down? Where is that ugliness coming from? It’s our sense of justice gone bad. It’s our moral fervor making sure no one will ever cross us and get away with it again.
That is what’s wrong with our kingdoms. The problem so often is our “justice.” So, is meekness really all that bad? We have a new King now. He understands that suffering injustice meekly has redemptive power. Our payback does not have redemptive power. Look at the cross. When he sees us turning to him and leaving room for him to defend us, and we stop the payback, and we start treating our enemies as potential friends the way he does, our King says to us, “Congratulations! I will look out for you. And my justice is perfect.”
Meekness, then, is not spineless peace-at-any-price. Jesus was a strong leader. We knew where he stood. But he was willing to suffer unjustly, because only unjust suffering can open our hearts to a whole new way of being human. Let’s stick up for others, especially the weak. But as far as our own personal fortunes are concerned, our own space, our own reputations, when somebody shoves injustice down our throats, Jesus calls us not to retaliate. We might want to appeal to the wrong-doer. The Bible says, “You shall reason frankly with your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:17). But what if you do that and your neighbor still finds fault with you and even makes it all your fault? Our King forbids us to rage back. We treated him terribly. He could have called down a million flaming angels to nuke us. But he didn’t. He kept trusting God to make it all right again. And God did at the resurrection. And it’s always better to let God do your fighting for you. His justice is better than ours. And it’s always more joyful to be raised up again by God.
So, be strong. But trust God. My lexicon of Classical Greek says that this word translated “meek” was used to describe a horse that had been tamed – as strong as ever, but no longer wild. In Classical Greek this word was also used to describe a caress – and you can be a Navy Seal and give a gentle caress. My Classical Greek lexicon tells me that this ancient word is distantly related to our English word “friend.” A true friend is strong, but not out for himself. That’s the key. Meekness is entering our hearts when we’re no longer in bondage to settling scores. Meekness bows before something greater. How can you feel that your own personal cause is worth fighting for, if you’ve embraced poverty in spirit and mourning? Meekness is not suicide. It’s only the death of the you inside you you don’t want anyway. Moses was a compelling leader, but he meekly put up with a lot (Numbers 12:3). Paul was an authoritative apostle, but he appealed to the Corinthians “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:1). If we want the real Jesus, we will wave the white flag of surrender before this word “meek” in the third Beatitude.
The early church took this seriously. Today we hear the word of the Lord through our own self-invented filters. We allow in only what we judge acceptable. We think, “He couldn’t have meant that. There must be a way to get around it. Nobody can actually live that way.” And then we wonder why Jesus seems unreal. But the early church took his word straight, though it cost them. In a book called The Didache, the Christians were taught, “Be meek in the face of their anger,” referring to persecutors. That was standard-brand Christianity long ago. It’s how those Christians earned a reputation that no one had anything to fear from them. Centuries later, Jonathan Edwards wrote, “If we would be as Christians, we must rejoice at the happiness of those that persecute us, and weep and be grieved for their misfortunes.” When you think about it, wouldn’t it be magnificent to live that way? Jesus is opening that door to us.
If we will stop filtering out the real Jesus and listen, he will help us. We don’t have to be good at this. He will help us, because he can see that something’s coming. You don’t have to go looking for it. It will come find you. But some kind of injustice is coming your way. And it will not be resolved in this life. But we have a King who will help us to live with it in a beautiful, Christlike way and not demand resolution until it’s his time and his way and his justice. That is not easy. But it is beautiful and Christlike and redemptive. Do you admire a person who’s out to pay someone back, however wrong the other person is? Don’t you admire the person who absorbs a terrible wrong and creates something redemptive out of it? Your King wants to make you that person.
Remember what Thornton Wilder said? “In love’s service, only the wounded soldiers can serve.” But if we can’t be meek under fire, how can we be Christians at all? At the center of the gospel is a cross. Sadly, churches can attract ruthless people, because they expect to find cowardice in churches. But here at Immanuel, your leaders are committed to providing a safe place for you. If a sociopath shows up – and initially they often seem impressive – but if that kind of person shows up here, your leaders will not be meek. But today the Lord is dealing with all of us very personally. This is what he wants us to accept with all our hearts. When we are wronged, it’s not as though our Christianity isn’t working; it’s part of being a Christian. It’s one way the Lord sets us apart to himself. When you’re tempted to fight back, it helps to remember this. You think you’re angry? Your King is a lot angrier than you are. And his anger is all the wrath this world needs. That takes us to other part of this Beatitude.
For they shall inherit the earth
Jesus is echoing the promise of Psalm 37. But as the Bible moves forward, it gets better. At the end of the Bible, the Revelation of John says the eternal city will come down from heaven to this earth (Revelation 21:2). His kingdom will come, and his will will be done on this earth as it is in heaven, at the second coming of Christ. That is the earth we will inherit. There is so much about the future we don’t know, but this we do know. God will keep his promises. He is saying here, “I promise you a place in a world freed from all injustice, where I will reign forever. You will not make payments. You will own it as your inheritance. It will be your own place, given to you on terms of my grace.”
Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2-3). He is that committed to you. He sees the wrongs you can’t change but meekly endure, and he feels them. He sees how unmeek you are at times, and he cares about that too. He is committed to redeeming your story at all levels. It’s why we call him Redeemer. Let’s trust him to redeem us. Jesus is able to be your advocate more powerfully than you can be your own advocate. Many of us have seen how he is able quietly and gradually, without force or violence or the dirty tricks we might resort to – he is able to give us our lives back. We are living proof of that. We always will be.
What is the real story of our lives? God is proving that his mercy endures forever. Wrong does not endure forever. It is temporary. It was defeated at the cross. The Son of God let us throw all our rage at him, and he gave back nothing but love. Our evil sank him down to death. But he rose up from it all, and so will you. The promise of Jesus is upon everyone who will let him fight their battles. He’s a good ally. He’ll even save you from the evil inside you. He will love you and love you and love you in ways that will surprise you, so that you can love others in ways that will surprise them. It’s what the whole world needs today – to be surprised by a love they don’t even believe in. God wants to use you to tell that story. It is the only hope of the world. It’s worth some suffering.