Who are the Meek? Matthew 5:5, January 27, 2008
 
Don't let others determine how you're going to act. A SydneyHarris syndicated column started with this story: "I walked with a friend to the news stand the other night and he bought a paper, thanking the owner politely. The owner, however, did not even acknowledge it. 'A sullen fellow, isn't he?' I commented as we walked away. 'Oh he's that way every night,' shrugged my friend. 'Then why do you continue being so polite to him?' I asked, and my friend replied, 'Why should I let him determine how I'm going to act?'"
Precicesly what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount! The ways of God are not the same as is the often rude and hurried interactions we experience in our high-strung, high-minded society. EltonTrueblood wrote in The New Man for Our Time, "It is the vocation of Christians in every generation to outthink all opposition." (New York: Harper and Row, 1970),126. We outthink opposition to the Gospel as we put our minds to living out the Gospel message in our own life.
Or, do we think the things that Jesus taught would never work in the "real world?" Then again, could they? Unless we try, we may never know. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. What might that look like?
 
"When Mother Teresa first began her work among the dying on the streets of Calcutta, India, she was obstructed at every turn by government officials and orthodox Hindus, who were suspicious of her motives and used their authority to harass her and to frustrate her efforts. She and her fellow sisters were insulted and threatened with physical violence. One day a shower of stones and bricks rained down on the women as they tried to bring the dying to their humble shelter. Eventually Mother Teresa dropped to her knees before the mob. 'Kill me!' she cried in Bengali, her arms outstretched in a gesture of crucifixion, 'And I'll be in heaven all the sooner.' The rabble withdrew but soon the harassment increased with even more irrational acts of violence and louder demands were made of officials to expel the foreign nun in her white sari, wearing a cross around the neck.

"One morning,
Mother Teresa noticed a gathering of people outside the nearby KaliTemple, one of the holy places for Hindus in Calcutta. As she drew closer, she saw a man stretched out on the street with turned-up eyes and a face drained of blood. A triple braid denoted that he was of the Brahmin caste, not of the temple priests. No one dared to touch him, for people recognized he was dying from cholera.

"
Mother Teresa went to him, bent down, took the body of the Brahmin priest in her arms and carried him to her shelter. Day and night she nursed him, and eventually he recovered. Over and over again he would say to the people, 'For 30 years I have worshipped a Kali of stone. But I have met in this gentle woman a real Kali, a Kali of flesh and blood.' Never again were stones thrown at Mother Teresa and the other sisters." (DonaldJ. Shelby, "Weakness and Power," 22 December 1991, Santa Monica, California.)
 
I think that is one message that the Beatitudes hold for us today as we hear Jesus saying, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (RSV) The New English Bible reads “How blest are those of a gentle spirit; they shall have the earth for their possession.”
 
Sometimes, as this Beatitude rolls from the lips of the super-pious I feel as if Christians are required to be the wet noodles of the earth. Does this Beatitude call us to be milk toast wimps who capitulate and kowtow to everyone around us?
 
The Greek word translated as “meek” has nothing to do with being a passive doormat. Rather, in both the Attic Greek and the New Testament, it signifies great strength that has been harnessed and put to a positive purpose. Hence, it is used of oxen that are yoked to plow fields, wild stallions that are tamed, and rivers that are channeled through irrigation ditches to water fields (Larry Stevens).
 
Meekness is not weakness, for both Moses and Jesus were meek men. This Greek word (praus) translated "meek" was uses by the Greeks to describe a horse that had been broken so that it would respond to its master. It refers to power under control (Wiersbe). Based on this definition, Matthew 5:5 could read, Blessed is the person who has every instinct, every impulse, and every passion under control (Barclay). To be "meek" is to be strong, but accommodating; unassuming; considerate; to have a mild and friendly disposition; to be gentle-spirited (BibleWorks).
 
For the Christian, these attitudes are not impossibilities. Jesus is speaking to his disciples, not the world at large. They are the fruit of the Spirit, as stated in Galatians 6. They are a work of God's Holy Spirit in us. Here is how Eugene Peterson translates this Beatitude in his book The Message: 
 
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are — no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
 
Sometimes to understand a concept, it is useful to consider its opposite. Moreover, to understand a biblical word, it is vital to have the Bible — rather than our contemporary dictionary — explain the meaning. The Hebrew Bible uses at least six different words to describe the opposite of meek. These are translated into English as arrogance, loftiness, presumption, boasting, pride and self-glorification. The Psalms, and especially Proverbs, set up the contrast: 
 
“You save a people that is humble and humiliate eyes that are haughty.” Ps. 18:27
“God pulls down the house of the proud.” Prov.15:25
“Pride comes first, disgrace comes after; with the humble is wisdom found.” Prov. 11:2
Pride goes before destruction arrogance before the fall. Prov. 16:18
 
Those of a gentle spirit, the meek; who are they? When Jesus refers to the meek, he returns to the ancient Biblical contrast between the humble before the Lord and the haughty before the Lord.
 
In this Beatitude, Jesus’ reflects back to Psalm 37:11 that says, “The humble shall possess the land.” Reading more of this Psalm defines the contrast between the meek, or humble, and the proud:
 
“But the humble shall possess the land and enjoy untold prosperity.
The wicked mutter against the righteous and grind their teeth at the sight of him;
The lord shall laugh at them for he sees that their time is coming.”
 
We are not talking about a school of right attitude or positive thinking. The Prophet Isaiah begins to show the true dimension of the gentle spirit:
 
“Humankind shall be brought low, all people shall be humbled
and how can they raise themselves? Is.2:9
“Humankind’s proud eyes shall be humbled, the loftiness of humanity brought low,
and the lord alone shall be exalted on that day.” Is. 2:11
 
The Old Testament consistently uses this type of contrast to clearly define the godly and the wicked. Meekness, humility, should be our attitude toward God; the way we relate to God.
 
Who are the meek? The Bible provides many examples; one comes from a person named Hannah. Who was one of Elkanah's wives, a man from the hill-country of Ephraim. In ancient days, when many children died at infancy, one way to insure family survival was multiple wives and a heavy emphasis upon child-bearing. But Hannah never got pregnant. The years rolled on. Ridicule and criticism met her daily. Rather than respect and kindness which God asks the Chosen People to give each other, Hannah received taunting and humiliation.
 
It was enough to break her. Resolving to be meek, in the strong sense of the word, Hannah went to the sanctuary at Shiloh. Women were not permitted to enter the inner chambers of the sanctuary, but Hannah was determined. Entering the sanctuary, she dared to call upon the Lord God in Prayer. Such courage was considered so out of character for a woman that Eli, the priest, assumed that Hannah was drunk. Turning to Hannah, Eli said, “Enough of this drunken behavior.” Refusing to be made light of, Hannah corrected the priest, “No, sir,” she answered, “I am quite sober. I have been pouring my heart out before the Lord.”
 
Hannah refused to be humiliated and courageously talked directly to God about her distress. God answered her prayer by giving her a son who became the great Prophet Samuel, who anointed David as King of Israel. In response to answered prayer, Hannah offers this hymn of prayer: 
 
How joyful I am because God has helped me!
No one is holy like the lord; there is no one like him, no protector like our God.
Stop your loud boasting; silence your proud words.
For the lord is a God who knows, and he judges all that people do.
 
Those of a gentle spirit, or the meek, are not wimps. As the old adage goes: courage is fear that has said its prayers. Hannah and others like her are remarkably strong people who express themselves in Psalms, and Proverbs, who courageously stand up for their rights in the sight of God in the appropriate way and at the appropriate time. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
 
Who are the meek? Another example can be seen in the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah sought a career of in the Priesthood and had a secure job in the sanctuary at Anathoth in the Benjamin territory. Then God called him to be a Prophet. But in Jeremiah's case, speaking out the clear word of the Lord caused Jeremiah to do some outrageous things. When asked for prayer, he refused. When asked for words of peace, Jeremiah thundered judgment. When he was supposed to know his place and do priestly actions, he carried a yoke around his neck predicting the Babylonian captivity. For such activity, Jeremiah was jailed, beaten, betrayed and sentenced to death. Jeremiah is certainly not a milk toast, or wet noodle, who submissively kowtowed to those around him.
 
In Jeremiah's words: 
 
“Let not the wise boast of wisdom; nor the valiant of his valor;
Let not the rich boast of his riches; but if anyone would boast,
Let him boast of this; that he understands and knows the lord.”
 
This is true meekness; true humility. To let God be God and not make ourselves out to be know-it-all gods.
 
The myth of the self-made person continually draws people away from the gentle way of Jesus. Imagine this 21st century Proverb in contrast to the Beatitudes:
 
Blessed are the aggressive who fight the economic jungle waving the banner of the self-made person.
Blessed are the children of the king, the CEO, the emperor, the rich and famous, for they certainly will inherit the glitter and gold of the world.
Blessed are the arrogant, who go through life singing, “I did it my way.”         
 
But Scripture tells us: Pride goes before destruction and arrogance before a fall. Wisdom is with the humble. Why? Because only in humility can we receive, accept and live out, the wisdom of God.
 
 
In the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, Jesus built on the ancient Proverbs. Jesus then lived out these teachings to show us that what he was teaching was not impossibility, but God’s work in us, and through us . . . if we allow God’s spirit to work in our lives.
 
Who are the meek? They are people who write Psalms and Proverbs. They are people like Hannah, Jeremiah and Mother Theresa, to name just a few. True meekness is ultimately seen in the person of Jesus Christ, whose birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension. God with us, Emmanuel, is a continuous example of living a life of meekness (power under control).
 
Who are the meek? They are people like you and me. When we, in humility, trust God with our needs and in our difficult times, we are the meek who will inherit the earth. Moses stood meekly before God. Jesus stood meekly before God. Are you willing to stand meekly before God?
 
 
 Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 
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