Blessed are the Meek
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5
Among the modern-day synonyms for meek are timid, docile, passive, spineless, resigned, and weak. I suspect the definition of meekness has softened from what it meant in Jesus’ day, and here is why: One of Jesus’ most frequent instructions was to follow him, presumably even in his meekness. I find no evidence that any of these terms describe Jesus or his nature. Rather, he was assertive, courageous, persistent, and action-oriented. Therefore, as we read this Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” I think we must look to a more reflective meaning for meekness.
A more accurate, contemporary translation might be to say blessed are the non-violent. Jesus passionately challenged injustice, illness, ignorance, and poverty wherever and whenever he found them, but he did so in a non-violent manner. There were a number of non-violent activists from the last century who modeled Jesus’ brand of meekness, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. None stood idly by in the face of injustice, but they steadfastly refused to answer violence with violence. The inconvenient truth is that Jesus did not allow his followers to react with violence at his arrest (Matthew 26:51), nor did he raise a finger to avoid his own violent death. There is a price to pay for a non-violent commitment, often a painful price.
Violence is never isolated. It is a reaction to a perceived threat and, as a reaction, violence is always a choice we make. In other words, we choose whether to respond in a violent manner to a particular situation. We deceive ourselves to think violence is always physical, however. Emotional cruelty, verbal abuse, and economic injustice are much more common and can wound more deeply. Violence in our culture extends beyond gun control debates, abortion, the death penalty, bullying, and military invasions of sovereign nations. Violent reactions, personally and collectively, reflect our insecurities and subconscious motivations. When we value others in terms of their usefulness for our own interests, we misuse whatever power we have over them to our advantage and at their expense. We see this manifest in rape and other types of sexual exploitation. The reach is broader than that, however. When we believe the rest of creation exists only for our benefit, we cause environmental destruction. Further, when we judge others as of no value to us, as wrong or insignificant, we ignore the higher truth that every person is a child of and loved by God every bit as much as we are. When we see our world (and everything in it) as our playground, as something for our personal exploitation, or even when we expect that others should think and act as we do, we box ourselves into a very small, incomplete world. Such a limited domain can only be forcibly sustained (temporarily) by violence because it is completely contrary to how the world was created.
Far from a cry to timidity, Jesus calls us to courageous and active resistance to the violence of our day, to find creative solutions that do not perpetuate cycles of violence. Such solutions respect and honor life where and as we find it, while also not allowing one immature life to run roughshod over another. Admittedly, it is not an easy undertaking. Jesus’ message is clear, however. In Matthew 5:38-39, he says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Jesus modeled a higher level of response, one that is non-vengeful and non-violent.
There is always a moment immediately following a threatening event when we can consciously choose our reaction. Sometimes it is best to hold the tension for a time, acknowledging it for what it is and identifying what within us is threatened by it. This allows the tension to become a source of internal healing instead of a trigger for another round of violence. As we learn to respond in non-violent ways to the world around us, as we learn Jesus’ brand of meekness, we find our lives and the lives of those around us increasingly blessed in innumerable ways. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the good things of the earth, which ultimately exist in a web of beautifully diverse, interdependent relationships.
This is the 13th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”
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