Scripture Text: Matthew 5:5
As we consider the third beatitude, I wanted to illustrate what the world frequently thinks of those who are meek. I chose some examples from the two factions that argue most vocally about human economic issues. One voice from the political left, speaking in Los Angeles at a recent rally, part of so-called Occupy Wall Street protest, had this to say to a group of energized protesters. Using a bullhorn, the man referred to a famous non-violent activist of recent memory in India as a “tumor that the ruling class is using to constantly mislead us.” Later, this same man said, “So, ultimately, the bourgeoisie [the upper class wealthy] won’t go without violent means,” alluding favorably for something like the violent and deadly French Revolution, suggesting that the same course of action might be necessary in our nation to rectify perceived social ills and economic inequality.1
And lest you think I’m only picking on liberals and socialists, the same philosophy can be found in the most ardent, conservative capitalist who, forsaking what the vaunted Adam Smith knew was necessary for healthy capitalism, namely, a sense of common morality, will not hesitate to run all over the “little person” in the greedy pursuit of wealth because, well, that’s just the way the world works. You remember the famous scene in the 1980s movie “Wall Street,” the one where Gordon Gekko, capitalist extraordinaire, says with deep seriousness to a rapt audience during a shareholder meeting, “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit [survival of the fittest]. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”2 Maybe you remember the late billionaire Leona Helmsley, who was quoted as having said, “Only the little people pay taxes.”
The “evolutionary spirit” referred to by the fictitious Gordon Gekko is that which captures the imagination of many, many lost souls on the left and the right, who believe that the acquisition of worldly power is the way to the top, to either achieve a utopian vision of world order on the earth, or to achieve maximum wealth and success. According to the world, the powerful are the blessed. The meek are those who, in both cases, get in the way.
And as we continue our examination of Jesus’ beatitudes, we see that it is the meek that He blesses with an inheritance consisting of nothing less than the entire earth. Jesus says to these folks, “You get it all.”
Who Are the Meek?
The word “meek” is heard a bit differently today than it was several hundred years ago when, for example, the King James Bible was published. The Greek word is πραΰς (praus), which the most significant NT dictionary defines this way: “pertinent to not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate, meek.”3 The meek, in other words, are not prideful; they are not deluded that they are “somebody.” They have a gentle comportment and have consideration for others. They are, in short, precisely the kind of people whom are run over by those of all persuasions who have bought into the worldly, materialistic, evolutionary spirit of our age. They are, according the standards established by the world, powerless.4
At this point I should remind you that the beatitudes cannot be reduced to a list of virtues. These blessing are for particular people in particular situations. Jesus is placing himself on the side of these people, and granting them blessings in a real way, in a kingdom-of-God way that overturns the power-based logic of the world. Jesus has declared that he is decidedly for those who are poor in spirit, who are in mourning, and now those who are meek which renders them powerless according to the ways of the fallen world. Those who are in the world, who are striving to take possession of the world and its’ things, are precisely the ones who will not inherit anything at the end. They have already received their reward.
What Are the Blessings Jesus Gives to the Meek?
Jesus blesses the meek by revealing to them that they will receive the earth. I take this to mean that the ones who, according to the powers and principalities of this world, strive to possess and control the world now will have already received their reward, but when the kingdom of God comes and Christ returns to reign in glory, all of the riches of the world will be granted to those who most resemble the meek, lowly God-man, born in a mangers, sleeping in a feeding trough, from the backwater town of Nazareth, who, despite the longings of the crowd for a Messiah of great power and might, acted with gentleness, humility and meekness. Why are the meek blessed by Jesus this way? Perhaps it is because those who are meek are the ones most likely to have the kind of mind the apostle Paul exhorted the Philippians to have, in Philippians 2:5-8:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.In other words, the Son of God, who is the heir of God by birth, became meek, so that those who are meek might become co-heirs of everything granted by the Father to the Son.
Therefore, it strikes me that there are actually two blessings in this verse. The obvious blessing is that the meek ones will get the whole earth. The second blessing is one easily bypassed: To be granted the earth as an "inheritance" means that a prior blessing has already been granted, that of being adopted into God's family. It is only by virtue of their adoption that the meek are qualified to receive the inheritance.
Don’t people who come from the same family generally share a resemblance to one another? I like to think the same thing happens in God’s kingdom. Those who are granted God’s gracious family inheritance share attributes with their great Sibbling, Jesus. They meek are, humble, obedient people. The fallen world has no use for such people, and when they are faithful and obedient this way, the world will actually kill them to get them out of the way. The leftist revolutionary will kill them off for not being engaged fully with the struggle, while the right-wing amoral capitalist will annihilate them to acquire their meager possessions. The world is eager to get rid of the powerless meek, just as the world was eager to get rid of the Son of God by means of execution on a cross.
God is really, really for people like this. He really wants them in the family. He wants them because they are the ones who will praise his glory the most when they are vindicated by being so richly blessed by his grace. The rich, well-to-do, powerful, proud, self-sufficient, self-righteous ones of the world have no desire to praise God in this way. Why would they, when they have their best life now? No, it is to those who have nothing, who are mourning, who are meek and powerless in the eyes of the world, it is these people who, when they are granted blessings, respond most fully with love and praise and adoration at the glory of the great God who holds the little ones so closely to himself.
This is the essence of the gospel. Jesus is making it clear who the candidates are for entry into the kingdom in these beatitudes. Entry to the kingdom of God, and adoption into the divine family as sons and daughters of God, comes exactly to those individuals the world would rather do without, thank you very much. The kingdom of God comes to those who are destitute and are longing for rescue. The kingdom of God comes to those who are in mourning and grieving their loss and their sin. The kingdom of God comes to those who are meek and powerless. These are not virtues. These are people living in bad places, bad situations, and bad conditions. These are people Jesus is especially for.
He’s for those people who have nowhere left to turn and nowhere left to run. Perhaps you are among their number.
I’ve said earlier, and I think this is right, that the beatitudes are not virtues. Many, many modern commentaries and interpretations and sermons treat them this way. It’s good to be poor. It’s good to be in mourning. It’s good to be a meek person, a nobody. If you are looking at this list, and concluding that you must become this way in order to earn God’s favor, you are missing the point of the beatitudes. There is nothing anyone can do to receive God’s blessing. If there was, then there would be no such thing as grace. Grace means receiving from God that which is undeserved and unwarranted because of our disqualifying, abominable sin. God is especially for those mentioned in the beatitudes because they are already in the condition where they will most likely respond to God’s graciousness with praise and worship.
You might say, “Well then, what if I’m not poor and feeling it my bones and awake at night with worry? What if I’m not in mourning? What if things are going quite well and I'm doing okay? What if I’m not by nature, meek? What if I’m a type-A achiever who gets things done? Am I just overlooked here by Jesus? You just said I shouldn’t aspire to these things as virtues because then I’d be trying to buy salvation and blessing from God. So what am I supposed to do? Do I stand condemned because I don’t fit in with this radical scheme that Jesus is setting up here?”
These are very important questions and I’m glad I’ve asked them for you. To begin with, I think much of what we try to project in the power-driven, fallen world in which we live is a ruse to cover up the exact things the world holds in derision – poverty, mourning and sadness, and meekness. We try to cover up our inadequacies in ways that earn worldly praise, but the root problem still exists.
The answer to these questions is a matter of the heart, ultimately. What do I mean? I mean that, indeed, God will not be manipulated into granting blessings to those whose interest isn’t His glory, but saving their own skins. God is not interested in your performance for him. He just isn’t. God is interested in what you feel in your heart for him. Do you love him? Do you love him in the person of his Son? Do you recognize in your heart that your very life, your every breath, and all that you have comes to you purely as a gift of grace? Has that knowledge changed your heart in such a way that you cherish him above all things? And, as a result, do you cherish him enough to follow him wherever he may take you? In short, have you been born again and received the gift of eternal life in Christ?
How does receiving that gift play out in real life? Here are some examples:
Does the knowledge that Jesus sacrificed everything for you on the cross give you such joy and hope and security that you could, in a heartbeat, if he called upon you to do so, give up everything you have? Are you willing to become impoverished to the point where it hurts for the sake of his glory? Is your important job or comfortable retirement worth the salvation of a poor sinner? Remember the rich young ruler?
Is your heart so full to overflowing with joy and love for Jesus Christ crucified and risen that you are willing to let your heart to be broken, to be rejected for the sake of the His name in the world? Are you willing to risk a friendship ending for the sake of proclaiming eternal salvation in Christ? Peter and James rejoiced that they suffered shame for the name of Jesus.
Are you, because of God’s total acceptance of you and your adoption by him in Christ is more precious to you than anything else, willing to set aside power and prestige and fame and importance and pride so that the glory of God may be more clearly seen in you? In other words, are you willing, like John the Baptist, to decrease, to become meek, so that Jesus, who became meek and powerless for you, might increase in fame throughout the world, beginning right here in Jackson?
You will only be willing to suffer these things for Jesus if your heart has been transformed by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit so that you know and feel the overwhelming, all-satisfying joy of his grace. My prayer is that everyone in this room has known this grace, or will, if it please God, be shown such mercy, so that we can say, together with the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Perhaps you are feeling the tug of Christ’s call right now. Don’t wait, let me or someone in the church know, so that we can pray for your and support you in your new life in Christ. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Amen.
1Video and transcription available here.
2From the 1987 movie “Wall Street” starring Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko. Video here.
4See Bruner, 165, on issues related to the translation of πραΰς.
Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
October 16, 2011
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew