On to the third beatitude: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” For those who are not yet convinced the Sermon on the Mount is for the living of these tumultuous days….pay attention! The third beatitude is understudied and undervalued among the beatitudes. We’re not quite sure who “the meek” are and we can’t quite find ourselves in there. We’re missing something, and surely our current batch of leaders are missing something too.
If you were to write a job description for the ideal CEO, would include “meek” in the description? Imagine if the presidential candidates ran with the slogan: "Vote for me, I'm meek!" There’s something about meekness that doesn’t square with our notion of ideal character. We don't want a meek person to be our leader; we want someone who is dynamic and powerful. Once again, as beatitudes are apt to do, this one messes with our understanding of how things ought to be. The problem is due to a simple misunderstanding. We hear the word "meek" and we think "weak." We couldn't be more wrong. Meekness isn’t weakness. Meekness requires strength.
A better word might be gentle (it’s the same word in Greek). Even better might be: "strength under control." I used to know a beautiful and powerful horse named Regent. He was big and strong and full of life, and when I was on his back he could have taken me for a wild ride. He could have dumped me in a heartbeat. But he didn’t; instead, he carefully followed my clumsy instructions and took me where I wanted to go. Regent was a gentle giant. He was as mindful of the little girl on his back as we are with newborn infants. That’s “strength under control.”
Meekness requires strength. In fact, to be meek in the sense this beatitude intends requires supernatural strength—a quality that is produced by God in a person's life. This same word, "meekness" or "gentleness" is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23) Meekness flows from the Spirit of God.
The stereotype of meekness is a person who has no will of his own -- someone pathetically passive who lets others take advantage of him. But that’s not what is portrayed in the biblical concept of meekness. Proverbs says, "Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city." Meekness isn't weakness. A patient man is stronger than a warrior because it takes more strength to control his temper than it does to storm a city. Meekness isn't passivity either. The meek person is intentional and in control.
So what does meekness look like in terms of behavior? Humility is characteristic of meekness. Let’s be clear, humility is not self-deprecation, it is not low self-esteem, it is not self-loathing. Humility is a trait that is marked by wholeness and well-being. There is something compelling and appealing about true humility. Someone once said, “Humility captures by retreat the very stronghold that pride attempts to take by storm.”
Pride, of course, is the opposite of humility. Like the fun-house mirror at the carnival, pride distorts. Pride takes some achievement or aspect of character and blows it out of proportion. Pride gives us a false view of ourselves. It inflates the few virtues we possess and makes us think we have others that we don't. Pride blinds us so that we fail to see our glaring faults which are obvious to everyone else. It minimizes the few weaknesses we are willing to admit. Worse yet, pride often prompts us to put on the mask of humility in an attempt to disguise what is really self-absorption. Humility doesn't come from looking in the mirror. It doesn't come from examining ourselves for signs that we are humble. Instead, look for the pride and expect to find it.
If you’re seeing pride, you’re not seeing Jesus. If you’re seeing pompous, ego-centric, attention-getting behavior, you’re not seeing Jesus.
"Blessed are the meek," Jesus said, "for they will inherit the earth." Those who first heard this sermon lived with daily reminders that the land God promised them was in the hands of someone else. These were people for whom meekness was a daily challenge. They knew of the wonderful potential of the Kingdom of God, but had no power to bring it to pass. In other words, they were just like us.
Meekness does not preclude coming together in solidarity for a common cause. A great nation of meek people is a great nation indeed. Cooperation among many takes a measure of meekness by all. Meekness is a posture that allows us to hear the other especially when they too, are humble, gentle and under control. When a bully enters the room with pride and arrogance, the temptation is to allow his bad behavior to be headline news. Bullies make waves. But ultimately their vitriol, anger and hatred will come back to haunt them. Watch for the headlines about strength under control. In the end, gentleness will win the day.
Don’t despair. The day of blessing is coming. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.