'Blessed Are the Meek'
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“Frederick Douglass was born a slave, in Tuckahoe, Maryland. Twenty years later, in 1838, he escaped. An eloquent orator, he became one of the country’s most persuasive abolitionists. He met, and influenced, five American presidents. He stood in a long line of prophets, including Jeremiah and Jesus of Nazareth when he fiercely denounced the hypocrisy of white American Christians. To do so, he used the Sermon on the Mount: “They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matt 23:24). In Douglass’s stinging rebuke, they would never admit into their fellowship a man who stole sheep but embraced those who steal men.” Frederick Douglass was a man of meekness.
Baptist preacher, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of meekness. He knew the God to whom he belonged. He spoke out against the injustice of Jim Crow laws, against the evil of segregation, using the language of the prophets – “Let justice roll like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” He led people in non-violent protest, bearing violence done against them and yet not returning evil for evil. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a man of meekness.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” It is at this point that the Beatitudes begin to look outward. We’ve been talking about coming to God with empty hands, realizing our need for God with a poverty of spirit that affects the whole of our life and is really the entry point into the kingdom of heaven, life lived in communion with God (co-union with God maybe). We’ve talked about being people who mourn – both sins and losses which keep separate us from God and from one another. In the kingdom of heaven – in Christ - there is comfort, reconciliation, being made new, hope.
Considering the third Beatitude, I wonder if, of all of them, it is most indicative of the nature of God, and how we are enabled through the Holy Spirit to be like Christ. I say this because I know myself and I know that there is no way that I’m conjuring up meekness on my own. At the same time, it is arguable that of all the Beatitudes, this is the one that goes most strongly against the tide of culture. The tide that says you have to get yours and don’t try to take mine or you will pay. The tide that says we are in the middle of a worship war or a culture war and they’re trying to take things away from us and you have to fight like hell to hang on to them. The tide that says the most important qualities to have are strength, power, ability, pride, self-assurance, aggression. The tide that says imposing one’s will or opinion on others is good and means you’re winning, and that it’s all about winning. The tide that says respect me and I’ll respect you, insult me and look out, take something from me and look out, hit me in the face and look out…
Which brings us back to the one who is talking. This word which is translated “meek” here is used in two other places in Matthew’s Gospel. “I am gentle and humble in heart” in Matthew 11. In Matthew 19, “Your king comes to you humble and riding on a donkey.” Meek. Gentle. Humble. Steady. Not proud. Not boastful. Not making demands based on my position, possessions, or privilege.
How much does the world need this message to be spoken and lived out? Look at the state of so much of public discourse today. Look at the conversations that go on in the comment sections. The flaming. The trolling. The demanding.
It’s no wonder really when you look at all the fear around us. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the known. Fear of the other. The desire for validation. The desire to know that our lives count for something. The desire to be great. How do we know we’ve achieved greatness unless we’re validated by others, and what do we do when that validation doesn’t come? Listen to the one who once promised I will make your name great. Listen to the one who once said “the greatest among you is the one who serves.” What does this mean when others condemn us, point out something that we’re doing is wrong? We’re very often ok with pointing out to ourselves what is wrong with us but react quite differently when someone else does it. It’s like your family member who is often critical of their spouse, but when someone else joins in on the criticism it’s a case of “How dare you say that!?”
Not getting defensive. I have to remember this. Sitting with the Beatitudes is a great time for self-examination. How many times have well-meaning and loving people offered me advice and I’ve taken it to mean they don’t think I know what I’m doing, or that I’m deficient in some way? I’m preaching to myself here too always.
Meekness is a matter of our hearts first and foremost. When I say “heart” I mean it in the Biblical sense, not simply as the centre of emotion but the centre of our being – emotion, will, intellect, thought. The heart of the matter is knowing who we are in the kingdom of heaven. Knowing that we are children of the kingdom, children of the King. Beloved of the King. Look at Jesus being mocked and insulted. “He saved others, he cannot save himself.” “He is the King of Israel. Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.” All this when Jesus had all the power of God at his beck and call. “Do you not know I could call a legion of angels to come down right now?” he said after the moment in the garden when a sword was drawn and blood was drawn. It wasn’t about violence for Jesus. On the cross, in the midst of a situation that looked anything but glorious, Jesus knew the way to glory, to being exalted, to life. To follow Christ is to have a true view of ourselves as beloved children of God.
Meekness is about remembering who we are, or more specifically, whose we are. Meekness walks the line between flying off the handle and sweeping everything under the carpet because we don’t like conflict. Meekness has been described as being able to bear slights and reproaches; as not being bent on revenge; as being free from bitterness or belligerence; as tranquility; as a steadiness of spirit.
It’s to have one’s heart aligned with the heart of God. It’s to have this steadiness of spirit express itself in attitude and conduct towards others. It’s to look to the centre of our being and find Jesus there.
Which is going to affect our attitudes and our conduct. Like when you’re at the gym, and someone blatantly doesn’t rack the dumbbells they just finished with. In fact, they let one roll away and almost hit this guy who’s working out on a bench. What do I do? True story and I’m tired of telling driving stories (though meekness as renunciation of my space and a humble setting aside of oneself certainly pertains to driving). Putting weights away at the gym is a basic point of gym etiquette. I was at the gym recently and this guy was using dumbbells and people can be trying – letting them drop loudly and just really being into looking at himself in the mirror. After his last set, he lets them drop, one rolls away and he walks away! I’m looking on and thinking about the injustice of this (it’s like when someone is in the 1-16 item express lane with 30 items and we rail ((inwardly or sometimes outwardly)) at the injustice of it all – this is life with others).
So we pray “Lord make us meek. Lord make us gentle. Lord make us humble. Teach us to rest in you. Teach us to rest in who we are in you – beloved children of the Kingdom of heaven. Let us rest secure in this. We all want security. All of us want to rest secure. This is why we need to hang on to all we have and fight for it. We learn about meekness from the examples of others as we go through our lives. Meekness changes the way we see possessions. Quite a few years ago Nicole and I were on vacation and we were visiting Rehoboth Beach DE (of all places!). There was a mother nearby with two daughters. When they came back from being in the water, the mother noticed that her flip-flops were gone. You could see her processing this for a few seconds. Her daughters were looking up at her. Think of all the different ways you could react to having your flip-flops stolen from your spot on the beach, many of them very negative. You could see her collecting herself (or perhaps being collected by the Holy Spirit) and she said “Well I guess someone needed them more than I do.”
Someone has said “Meekness is a true view of ourselves as children of the Kingdom expressed in attitude and conduct with respect to others.” If our sense of security is based on how we are honoured and respected by others, what will this mean when we are insulted, dishonoured, and disrespected? I will have to get my own back. Knowing who we are as beloved children of the King means that I don’t have to get my own back, I don’t have to return insult with insult or look for revenge. Later on in the sermon, Jesus will talk about how insults given and responded to can end in someone being killed (or as I like to say, how road rage can end up with someone on the hood of a car on the DVP). This is what Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matt 5:21-22) “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also,” Jesus will say famously. When Jesus was literally struck in the face, he used the occasion to start a dialogue with his attacker (John 18:22-23).
How different is this? This is revolutionary stuff. One writer I came across preparing for today wrote of the “Gospel According to John Wayne.” We might equally say the Gospel According to John Wick or Liam Neeson in any one of a number of movies, and I get the attraction of it, trust me. Listen to this – “No matter who plays the lead, the story is always the same. When faced by bad men, people evil down to the marrow of their bones, the only salvation is to kill them. It is a ‘gospel’ in the sense that it is the defining story for many people.”
At which point we have to stop and say what is the Gospel of Jesus? What is the Good News of Jesus? What did Jesus do when faced with evil people? He died for us. Our defining story, dear friends, is Jesus Christ. We can only be truly meek, truly gentle, truly humble, in the strength of God.
Steadiness of spirit grounded in the strength of God. This does not mean we will never be angry. “Be angry but do not sin,” wrote Paul to the church of Ephesus, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” Someone has said a meek person is angry for the right reasons, in the right way, at the right things, and for the right amount of time. Someone has said one’s anger should never injure another. Someone has said don’t do or say anything while you’re angry (or write anything I’ll add). Distinguish between the trivial and the important, ask for God’s wisdom in helping us to know the difference. Ask God to give us hearts that are meek and gentle in the strength of God our Father.
For they will inherit the earth. When we hear “inheritance” we may think of scenes like the one in Knives Out or countless other movies where the will is read and everyone wonders what they’re going to get. The earth is yours, the earth will be yours, for you belong to its Maker I wrote in “Welcome to the Kingdom.” To be inheritors in the kingdom of heaven is to know the promises of God, now and always. To rest secure in who we are as children of the King, in the strength of the King. Living secure now in the protection of God and looking forward to the day when God’s kingdom will be known in its fullness. We don’t have to fight like hell for anything, dear friends. All things are yours, whether the world, or life or death, or the present or the future – all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gifts, and may God to continue to make us more like Him.