The Sermon on the Mount, Part 6

hand holding a sleeping sparrow; why does Jesus bless the meek?

Why does Jesus bless the meek?

 

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Matthew 5:5

How would you feel if someone described you as meek? Most of us define “meek” as timid and subservient. We see meekness as ineffectiveness–people who don’t have the courage, willpower, or resources to stand up for their rights. But while most of us associate meekness with weakness, Jesus associated it with godliness.

The Greek word translated “meek” (praus) is used only four times in the New Testament, but praus, along with ptoches (the “poor” of the first beatitude) shows up frequently in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) for the Hebrew word, anawim. The terms seem to be interchangeable in the Old Testament. What is the difference between poverty of spirit and meekness?

  • Poverty of spirit happens as a result of honest self-evaluation–we realize we are weak, wrong-minded, and totally dependent on God. Poverty of spirit has a dual focus: ourself and God.
  • Meekness is natural companion to poverty of spirit. It is also about our relationship with God, but it brings in an additional and more challenging element: other people. It’s one thing to acknowledge our sinfulness to ourselves and to God. But it is another thing to have our shortcomings and failures pointed out by others. Human nature will lead us to become defensive or fall into self-pity, but the meek are not interested in self-protection or feeling sorry for themselves. They are just amazed that God treats them so graciously. Their focus is on God, not on themselves.

So meekness, like mourning and poverty of spirit, is an attitude. In Psalm 37, the meek are encouraged to

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
Psalm 37:5–9

Jesus quotes verse 9 of this psalm in the third beatitude. The psalmist describes the meek as “those who wait for the Lord” rather than worrying or seeking revenge.

Perhaps the best way to define meekness is to look at examples from the Bible. Numbers 12:3 describes Moses as “very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth,” but Moses was certainly not born that way. In his earlier days Moses was reckless and self-willed. His murder of an Egyptian (Exodus 2) is a good example. Acts 7:25 tells us Moses “supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand.” His impetuousness forced him to flee to the wilderness where it took God forty years to mold him into the meek man we read about in Numbers 12.

The ultimate example of meekness is Jesus.

  • We see it in the way he endured persecution and abuse.
  • We see it in his deference to the Father in everything he said and did. “The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me” (John 14:10).
  • We see it in his gentle way those who were hurting. Matthew 12 points to Jesus’s fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “He will not quarrel or shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle.”
  • Jesus saw himself just this way, and he invited his apprentices to follow his example: “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” (Matthew 11:29).

We can only imagine what Jesus’s audience thought when he blessed the meek. The world they lived in put little value on meekness, and most Jews were praying and hoping for a militaristic Messiah who would throw off the yoke of Roman bondage. The meek Jesus was a bitter disappointment. But Jesus did not come to appease the whims of the people. He came to do the will of the One who sent him.

When Jesus blesses the meek, he sets them apart from the self-interest and violence that characterize the world. He tells his apprentices to respond to evil and injustice in non-violent ways (e.g., they are to turn the other cheek and pray for their enemies), knowing that all things will work for their good when they love and trust God (Romans 8:28–29).

The reward? Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth. New Testament writers tended to talk about Old Testament promises regarding “the land” as finding fulfillment in non-territorial ways–specifically, life in the kingdom of heaven.

 

Next: Blessed are the spiritually hungry.

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