Today: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Beatitudes #2: The meek    (10/11/2015)

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

What difficult words! The dictionary defines meek as ‘piously humble and submissive; submitting tamely to injury'—which suggests a doormat and a distinctly unappealing wimpish weakness.

Who wants to be meek? And how can meekness lead to inheriting anything?

We know that in these beatitudes Jesus wants to shock us into a new way of thinking. What we usually think is ‘Blessed are the powerful, the rich, those on top; they will inherit the earth.' But Jesus says, No; it's the other way up.

But there's no obvious word in English to match what he meant. In the languages of the Bible the word is used to describe those who trust the guidance and goodness of God, and who aren't resentful or bitter.

Meekness tells us where a person is in relation to God; in a trusting, willing, useful relationship, giving love and held by love. The meek person has a true and not inflated or distorted view of themselves. They know who they are before God.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle used to define virtues by their extremes: too much or too little. The real virtue lies in between. In this case, he relates the word for meekness to anger: you can have too much anger which becomes bitter and destructive, or you can have too little anger and it becomes insipid, colourless and indifferent. But in between, with the right amount of anger, is meekness—the person who feels anger on the right grounds, against the right persons, in the right way, at the right time, and for the right length of time. That is a much stronger image, and is interestingly much more like Jesus.

In the Narnia stories, Aslan the lion is like that: powerfully gentle. In this sense the word is linked not so much with weakness but with strength. It's about using strength with gentleness for good—something many tyrants and ordinary people have still to discover. They are un-meek: actually the weak, the un-strong.

In the Bible, the clearest example of meekness is Jesus himself. To call him ‘Gentle Jesus, meek and mild' sounds too much like a parody nowadays. Yet he described himself as meek and lowly in heart. But he was never weak. He is the king who came to Jerusalem, riding on a lowly donkey. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.

But what does it mean—‘the meek will inherit the earth'? That glad and willing submissiveness and trust in God are necessary for receiving and taking hold of God's promises. And it's not so much the land that's to be inherited, but the even greater blessings of God's Kingdom—the gifts of contentment, fulfilment and richness of living as God always intended. This is the real Christian character, and meekness is at the centre of it.

Pray: Lord, give me the courage to submit myself to your good and loving will; the wisdom to fight for the things you want me to fight for; the strength to be a useful servant of yours; and the willingness to learn the gentle and strong meekness of Jesus. Amen.

Think about: Firstly, do you want to be meek? Or even better, do you want to become more like Jesus? William Barclay sums up this beatitude like this: “Happy the [man] who has so committed himself to God that he is entirely God-controlled, for such a man will be right with God and will be right with self and will be right with others, and will enter into that life which God has promised and which God alone can give.”

Challenge: In one of his letters, Peter (who knew Jesus so well) gives us a glowing picture of what the meekness of Jesus was like. Read what he says in 1 Peter chapter 2, and especially verses 21-24.

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