The humbled (“meek” part 1)

Thursday

Matthew 5

File:Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a civil rights march on Washington D.C. in 1963.jpg

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Mathew Ahmann, executive director of the National Catholic Conference for Interrracial Justice, at a civil rights march on Washington, D.C.

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

I heard once, when I was in high school, that the word meek was used of a warhorse trained for battle who was not frightened by the chaos and cries of the clash of armies. I haven’t been able to verify such a use of the Greek word, however much it appealed to an adolescent boy in search of a masculine Christianity.

What the word is routinely used for in the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament (the sacred scriptures of the first believers) is those who are humbled by oppression and poverty. And the sentiment expressed by Jesus that those who have had their lands stolen from them shall receive them back again is not new to Jesus. Psalm 37 advises the faithful to “trust in the LORD and do good,” “commit [their] way to the LORD,” “refrain from anger and forsake wrath,” for “yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more,” and “the meek shall inherit the land.”

It advises against the angry vindictiveness that leads to a cycle of revenge: “Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him.”

The psalm declares that God will execute justice, that God will defend the poor, that God will cut off the wicked and “the righteous shall inherit the land.” (v.29)

“Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land.” (v. 34)

It sounds like the psalmist is counseling what we would call ‘quietism.” At least for us, in our culture, the word ‘meek’ suggests those who do not fight back against oppression – those who make great doormats.

I didn’t want to hear that as a teen. I still don’t. I wanted to fight injustice. I hated the insensitivity, the self-absorption, the self-righteousness of power. It wasn’t enough for me to hear that God will set things right in the end.

But there are times and places and peoples where those simple words are words of great hope and power: “God will set it right.” “God will set it right.”

Such a promise doesn’t make me weak; it makes me strong. God will make it right. The corruption and abuse of power will not endure. The world does not belong to those with money and great lawyers. The world does not belong to those who control congress and the media. The world does not belong to those with guns. The world does not belong to the hackers and hijackers. The world belongs to God and God will make it right.

The meek, the oppressed, the beat down, the humbled and humiliated will inherit the earth. Not just the family farm. Not just the land of Israel. They are the inheritors of the whole creation, raised from sloth and slime into glorious freedom of the children of God.

The injustice I oppose now will fall. Perhaps not today. Perhaps not tomorrow. But it will fall. The greed I oppose now will fall. The tyranny I oppose now will fall. Violence will not reign. It is not a word about the sweet by and by – it is a word about creation’s destiny. Our destiny is in God. And God has shown himself to be one who set slaves free, who is the avenger of widows and orphans, who commands the sharing of bread and freeing of servants and the protection of the natural world, who returns the humbled to their land.

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

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