Sermon for October 31, 2021 23 of Pentecost “Blessed are the Meek”
In the sermon on the mount Jesus is not just being nice and offering generations to follow a cute sentimental bit of prose. Jesus is proposing a manifest for personal and corporate traits that are necessary and essential to be followers of Jesus. Jesus wants to be clear right from the start that his message is different, will put you at odds with leaders and governments and will require a turning from your current path to this new one. And Jesus knows at the beginning it is not for everyone and those who do follow will not be perfect. But Jesus lays out the beatitudes and for us today: Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.
Social comparison theory suggests that in most humans and more so in Europeans and North Americans we feel better about ourselves when other lose. The bigger the fall the better we feel. This attribute is instilled at an early age and most are not even aware. I’m taller, prettier, smarter, faster and so on. And then we become teens, young adults and adults and we compete for the top rung. When we get there we discover that in fact we missed the mark… for the meek will inherit the earth.
Blessed are the gentle [or the meek, humble, non-violent, unassuming]: they shall have the earth as inheritance. —Matthew 5:5
This Beatitude is a quote from Psalm 37:11: “the humble shall have the land for their own.” Some translate it “the nonviolent.” The translation perhaps most familiar is “the meek.” It is the unique power of the powerless, which people who have always had power never understand. It is claimed by Mary in her famous Magnificat where she mirrors and models the many “barren” women in the Hebrew Scriptures: “God has looked upon me in my lowliness. . . . God fills the starving with good things”. She represented the pivotal biblical theme of “the poor of Yahweh”, taught especially by the prophets Zephaniah and Zechariah. Surely Mary and Joseph modeled this stance for Jesus as a child. Their offering of two turtle doves at his presentation in the temple, which was the offering of the landless peasantry, reveals their social place in Jewish society.
There is, of course, an irony here. If there was one hated group in Palestine of Jesus’ day, it was landlords, those who possess the land. Nobody possessed land except by violence, by oppression, by holding onto it and making all the peasants pay a portion of their harvest. Jesus is turning that around and saying no, it’s you little ones who are finally going to possess the land. I can hear implicit critique in his voice, but also hope.
Mark Scandrette writes “because meekness sounds like weakness, it is often misconstrued to mean passive submission. A more accurate definition is strength under control, when you know your inherent worth, you can be at ease, not striving or competing of feeling inferior to anyone. Another’s person’s ranking does not diminish your value or esteem. What is the deepest and truest thing about you? The Hebrew Scriptures point to the reality that we are made in the divine image. You have inherent dignity and worth, value that is not dependent on your achievements of validation from others. What matters more than anything is the value you have in the eyes of the Creator. This awareness prompted the ancient poet to write: I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.”
Eknath Easwaran writes: To live simply is to live gently, keeping in mind always the needs of the planet, other creatures, and the generations to come. In doing this we lose nothing, because the interests of the whole naturally include our own. . . In claiming nothing for ourselves, we have everything, for everything is ours to enjoy as part of the whole.
Blessed are you when you strive to be meek, seems as unlikely in our day as it did in Jesus day. And yet it is the revolutionary call of Jesus to be in the world but not of the world. Yes we live and move and have our being in our communities but we are named, called and chosen to: exercise our strength under control, to love others and creation with abandon and to understand our meekness as a path to redeemed and restored life for all.
The first followers of Jesus were astounded by this new teaching. After 2000 years can we still be astounded. More importantly can we be moved to action?