‘Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth’
Almost all the time when I am doing this job, particularly when I am preaching, I come across some of the words of Jesus which I personally find extremely challenging and I guess many of you do as well; but never more than in the case of this particular beatitude: ’Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’
As you know, we are doing a series at Valley Worship on the Sermon on the Mount. In January I covered ‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit’. In February, James Greig spoke about the second beatitude: ‘blessed are those who mourn’.
This morning, I have the happy task of opening up to you this one – ‘blessed are the meek’.
I explained in January, that the beatitudes are a series of expectations that Jesus has of those of us who would see ourselves as his followers. I also explained that the word for ‘Blessed’ in the original Greek is makarios which means ‘favoured by God’ or ‘happy’.
‘Blessed are the poor in Spirit’ is the entry level – those who recognise that they cannot stand on their own two feet and are dependent upon him. The next rung on the staircase upwards is: ‘Blessed are those who mourn’ about the way the world is, but also about their own sinfulness and are driven by that upset heart, by that bereavement, to be the way that Jesus is calling us all to be in the rest of the beatitudes. Without that poorness of our spirit, without that mourning for our sinfulness, we would never want to put on the cloak of humility which Christians are called to wear in the other beatitudes.
So we come to the next beatitude: ‘Blessed are the meek….’ Part of the problem I have with this beatitude is that I am absolutely certain that I am not really meek and have not been meek for most of my life, and certainly none of my life as a commercial solicitor. But the other problem is, I am not at all sure that I want to be meek.
I think it may be the fault of Charles Wesley, who in the 18th century wrote a hymn whose first verse goes like this:
‘GENTLE Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child,
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to thee’
For anyone brought up on this hymn ‘meekness’ is associated with childhood vulnerability. We think of meek people as those being taken advantage of, pushed around, whereas in fact we are taught by the world to be confident and assertive. We see the aggressive as those who ‘do well’.
We tend to think of ‘meek’ as meaning ‘weak’: the mild mannered Clark Kent bumbling his way around the office at the Daily Planet; the man persuaded by the car salesman that he really does want the purple model thats been sitting on the forecourt for months. To be meek seems to be on the side of life’s losers.
But it was the same in the Roman Empire, perhaps worse. Bullying was the way of life. It was a society based on slavery. In the 19th Century Neitzche, who was, of course, obsessed with power (and inspired the Nazis) described this praising of weakness as ‘the slave morality of Christianity’.
But ‘meek’ doesn’t mean ‘weak’. Indeed, it can be the very opposite: meekness is strength under control; strength under control.
You can imagine a racehorse trained to keep its vast strength, ready for the race. Indeed there is an expression in the Southern States of the US used by horse breeders that “the meekest horse wins the race”. A meek horse is one whose strength is harnessed and brought under focused control.
But what about humans?
It is easier really to describe what meekness is not, than what it is. It is not:
In fact, it is not holding ourselves out as more than we actually are. Not selling ourselves as more than we are. It’s not being ‘more than we are’ people: stronger, than we are; richer, than we are; smarter, than we are; more important, than we are; like some stag, in the rutting season, trying to drive off competitors with bluster and aggression….
In fact, it is being quietly confident in who we are in Christ Jesus and in the strength that he gives us but not needing to use it to impress others, with the result that we may appear to others to be ‘Less than we are, people’.
If we truly recognise, who we are in Christ: as Christians we are princes and princesses, adopted sons and daughters of God, the Creator of the Universe, then we should be experts at being, we should be used to being ‘less than we are, people’.
An element of meekness is self discipline; not shouting and bullying; a quiet strength, never tempted to lose it; withstanding the onslaught of others and still being gracious; being teachable; being open to learning from others.
Now I reflect on it, there were actually some people from my former life as a commercial lawyer who could be described as ‘meek’ in this sense of the word: ‘strength under control’.
This is a true story. A lawyer in my former firm called Mike Duncan was in a very difficult meeting. The lawyer on the other side began hectoring him. He was aggressive and bombastic. The question he was asking didn’t seem to come to an end…he went on and on and on…banging the table, very intimidating.
Mike let the other lawyer talk, until he finally ran out of steam, amid volleys of “and do you really mean that….” and “can you seriously be asking us to….”
When the other lawyer’s tirade ended, silence filled the room….
There was a pregnant pause…..
and then quietly and without emotion Mike said simply….“Yes”.
The other lawyer just collapsed…
‘Strength under control’
In literature, I think the best example of meekness I could think of is Jean Val Jean in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Who has read the book? Who has seen the musical? Who has seen the TV series?
Doesn’t every man want to be Jean Val Jean?
Doesn’t every woman want every man to be Jean Val Jean?
For those who have not read or seen or heard the story: Jean Val Jean is an incredibly strong convict imprisoned in a prison hulk for stealing a loaf of bread for his family when starving. Eventually he is released. After spending a night having been given accommodation by a priest, he steals some candlesticks and escapes….
But when he is recovered by the police, the priest, instead of condemning him says to the Police ‘but I gave him the silver’ and to Valjean ‘you have left some behind, please take it’
This wonderful moment changes Jean Val Jean’s life for ever and he spends the rest of it determined only to do good. He becomes a succesful businessman and model citizen. It is the story of a Christian conversion at the heart of one of the most successful musicals in the West End.
But Jean Val Jean is pursued by his enemy, Javert, a policeman who is convinced that no-one who is bad can ever have their life transformed.
Ultimately, the rest of the book is about Javert’s relentless pursuit of Jean Val Jean and Javert trying to get him back behind bars in the prison hulks for a trivial crime committed just after he is released.
Eventually, they both find themselves together behind the barricades in the attempted revolution of 1830’s Paris. Javert is now a government spy, Jean Val Jean is trying to rescue from death a young revolutionary called Marius.
Javert is taken prisoner by the revolutionaries. Jean Val Jean volunteers to be the one to kill him. But while the revolutionaries are distracted, this is what happens;
‘Take your revenge’ said Javert
Valjean got a clasp knife out of his pocket and opened it.
‘A knife thrust! exclaimed Javert. ‘You are quite right. That suits you better’
Jean Val Jean cut the halter around Javert’s neck, then the ropes binding his wrists and ankles; then standing upright, he said: ‘You’re free to go’
Javert was not easily taken aback but with all his self discipline he could not conceal his amazement. He stared open mouthed.
‘I don’t suppose that I shall leave here alive,’ Valjean went on. ‘But if I do, I am lodging at No7 Rue de L’Homme Arme’…..
This act of generosity eventually drives Javert to suicide in the Seine.
Hugo later describes how it suddenly dawns on Marius about Jean Valjean’s character:
“Marius began to have an inkling of how incredibly lofty and solemn a figure this Jean Valjean was. An unheard-of virtue appeared to him, supreme and meek, humble in its immensity. The convict was transfigured into Christ.”
It is, of course, Christ who is the ultimate example of meekness. Paul describes Jesus as someone who had authority over the universe and yet was meek. In Philippians 2:5-11 Paul describes himself as someone who boasts about his weakness: ‘so that the power of Christ can work through me’. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
The desirable attitude of the Christian according to Paul is Philippians 4:12-13:
‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness’
Jesus allowed himself to become a ‘less than he is’ person.
In a world filled with the fears and trumpeting furies of ‘more than they are’ people.
So we face a choice: are we going to spend our lives trumpeting about our strength, like the rutting stag as ‘more than we are’ people.
Or are we going to take the path of real strength of appearing to be ‘less than we truly are’ people, and in that way model the Life of Christ?
5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 5:1–12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Thanks to J John in the Happiness Secret for some of the content of this talk