This continues a series of posts on the beatitudes, one post on each beatitude. These were originally my teaching notes when I taught an adult Sunday school class. Each week we began by reading all of the beatitudes: Matthew 5:3-10.
So far we’ve looked at the first 2 Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit and blessed are those who mourn. Today we look at Matthew 5:5. “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.”
Many Bible translations use the word meek for this Beatitude. It is how this beatitude is traditionally known. A few translations use another word instead.
*If you see another word in your Bible, don’t say it yet!* Because I want to begin with the word meek, and how we typically perceive it.
The original Greek word does not have a perfect equivalent in English, but meek is seen as the closest or most accurate word choice, in this verse at least.
♦ Would you want to be called meek? Why or why not? In other words, do we typically have a more positive or negative connotation with meekness?
In a thesaurus, I found these synonyms for meek: weak, spineless, timid, passive. And 2 antonyms were: bold and brave. Hmmm.
An article I read claimed that this beatitude is the most famous one in secular society or culture. It had a long list of movies, musicals, songs, poems, and TV shows where “the meek shall inherit the earth” is referenced in some way.
♦ All 8 of the beatitudes are counter-cultural and surprising in their own way. Why is it, do you think, that this one is the most famous? Why is it such a standout?
-Maybe it gives hope to some people. One day the meek will inherit the earth!
-But maybe it is because this beatitude is the hardest to believe? It too often doesn’t match up with reality. We expect (and see) the opposite – the meek get nowhere because they are trampled underfoot. It is the aggressive and strong who inherit the earth. Some of the cultural references to this beatitude were negative, such as: “The meek will inherit the earth only after the violent have tamed it” and “The meek will inherit nothing.”
This same Greek word (praus) is used 2 other times in Matthew’s Gospel. I had Matthew 11:29 and Matthew 21:5 read in class.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Matthew 11:29
“Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King comes unto you, meek, and sitting upon a donkey, and a colt the foal of a donkey.” Matthew 21:5
So…Jesus taught that it is blessed to be meek. Jesus described himself as meek. Matthew describes Jesus as meek, quoting the Old Testament.
I noted something interesting. In the beatitude, most versions translate praus as meek. But when it comes to these 2 verses about Jesus, even though it is the same word praus, most versions now switch to another word – gentle. I’d like to do some further investigation about the word choices. But I wonder if the translators were just uncomfortable with Jesus being called meek?
But even the word gentle can make us uncomfortable. Gentle can have a feminine connotation. Supposedly, women are to be gentle, and men more tough. (Even though one of the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness, and these are traits for ALL Christians, women and men alike.)
I think we need to reconsider our definition of meek, and gentle.
♦ Some Bible trivia: Can you think of some times where Jesus behaved in a way that we would definitely not consider meek or gentle??
-Jesus turning over the tables in the Temple.
-Jesus would sometimes make really sharp statements to the Pharisees that I definitely would not consider meek or gentle, but bold and even a bit harsh or instigating!
It appears that being meek or gentle does not disallow for being strong and bold sometimes too.
As said, we need to reconsider our definition of meek. In our modern day, I think we have taken the negative side of meek, rather than the positive side of meek. I shared the synonyms: weak, spineless, and timid. But there were other synonyms on the list that I purposely did not share: modest, patient, peaceful, humble, gentle. So…we can begin to perceive meek in a different way!
Bill Mounce, who is a biblical Greek expert, defines the Greek word praus – translated meek or gentle – as: “the positive moral quality of dealing with people in a kind manner, with humility and consideration.” Another source I looked at described meekness as “power under control.”
Meekness is using our power to serve others. Mark 10:45 says that Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life. There is a time to exert power or be forceful, and a time not to. Jesus had a lot of wisdom there. We seem to lack wisdom in this area too often.
Jesus did not have to be crucified. He could have rose up in his own power and defended himself, or called angels to assist him. But he did not, because he came to earth to die. He limited himself for our sake. And through the meekness and humility of Jesus, he brought salvation to humanity.
Now we will look at Psalm 37:1-11. Many commentators think that Jesus likely had this Psalm in mind when he said the meek shall inherit the earth.
As the Psalm is read: Listen for the general theme. You will hear one phrase said 3 times “do not ______” and you’ll also hear a statement nearly identical to the beatitude in Matthew 5:5. After the Psalm was read, I asked these questions to draw out certain content: Three times we are told not to what? And specifically, what are we not to fret over (verses 1 and 7)? The 3rd “not fret” (verse 8) warns us that fretting will lead to something. What is it?
-We are told not to fret, specifically not to fret when when the wicked succeed or when evil people do wrong. It also says that fretting leads to evil.
♦ How can fretting over evil lead to evil?
– Vengeance, getting even. Justice and vigilante justice are different. There is a difference between seeking justice and taking matters into your own hand. We can also become bitter or hateful.
♦ In this Psalm, what is the relationship between meekness and trusting God? Instead of fretting over evil, what are the righteous to do?
-We trust that right will win in the end. We wait patiently for the day when the righteous will be vindicated and evil destroyed.
-We curb our urge to avenge wrongs against us, and use our power to serve others like Jesus did. “Trust in the Lord and do good”
A clarification: I think we should be concerned about evil in society, but not fret over it. Not fretting does not mean a “head in the sand” mentality. Christians should be concerned about injustice, and the Bible emphasizes the importance of God’s people seeking justice and defending the oppressed. (But that is another topic.)
To wrap up this lesson, and come back to the beatitudes…
Note that beatitude #3 about the meek, comes between #2 about mourning over our sin, and #4 about hungering and thirsting for righteousness. If we are truly mournful for our own sins, humbled over it, this should make us less likely to feel vengeful over the sins of others. Remember that meekness can be described as a quality of being patient and kind with other people.
If we are poor in spirit, mourn our sin, and are meek this will prepare us to better handle the 4th beatitude – hunger and thirst for righteousness. Because pursuing righteousness can go terribly wrong!
At the end, I read some questions and prayer suggestions, for the purpose of a few moments of silent thought and prayer.
– How does your view of meekness need to be revised in light of this beatitude?
-Ask the Lord to show you relationships or situations where you are being bold or harsh when being gentle and considerate is the better way.
-Where might you need to be patient and trust God, rather than fight or push for a certain result?
-Thank the Lord for being an example of gentleness in his earthly life and in being gentle with you.
NEXT POST, beatitude number 4 is HERE.
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