“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Matthew 5:5 (NRSV)
This line is virtually a quote from Psalm 37:11:
But the meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.
Psalm 37:11 (NRSV)
That Psalm is a great commentary on this Beatitude and, in a sense, the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount.
In this Psalm, it speaks to a people who are experiencing oppression at the hands of “the wicked.” The wicked, here, are those with power who bring down the poor, who game the financial system for their own benefit but the loss of others, and who are working against those who are trying to remain faithful.
In contrast are “the meek.” These are the poor, the faithful – those who are being pressed down by the wicked. Meekness, here, is not so much a personality characteristic as it is belonging to a certain group of people.
Psalm 37, however, encourages the meek to remain patient and to be of good heart, because no matter what things look like now, God will vindicate and exalt the meek. They shall inherit all the things the wicked currently enjoy, and the wicked will perish. It is their continued faithfulness that will see them through into a new state affairs. It is their faithfulness that God will reward.
Of course, the temptation of the meek in Psalm 37 is to give up faithfulness and, instead, embrace the ways of the wicked – to become those who are rich and powerful and living high on the hog. But God will not reward that. That is joining up with the people who belong to a world that is about to vanish. Better to remain poor, oppressed, and faithful than to eat and drink with the wealthy and powerful, because God will exalt one group and bring the other group to destruction.
That is also how this Beatitude fits in. Jesus has talked about the poor’s fortunes being restored and the mourners being comforted by this great overturning in the world system. This is simply another facet of it.
And you see this work itself out in Jesus’ ministry. It’s hard to forget Jesus’ instructions to the rich young ruler:
Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Matthew 19:16 (NRSV)
Jesus is trying to get this young man to move from one group to the other group. The young ruler may be keeping Torah, and this is good, but he is part of a world system that will be dismantled. He is both rich and a ruler in Jerusalem. Jesus urges him to give up his membership in “the wicked” as Psalm 37 defines it and become “the meek.” Leave the kingdom where this man is a ruler and join the one where he is just like everyone else. Leave one world for another world. God opposes the proud, but is gracious to the humble.
Like the other Beatitudes, this reversal of fortunes in Jerusalem and in the Roman Empire at large is in our rear-view mirror. But it, coupled with what had come before, gives us some good insight into the heart of God.
Because, you see, God has always opposed the powerful when they use it for their own benefit, especially at the expense of others. God destroyed Sodom for it. God judged Israel herself more than once for this very thing – the corruption and power and wealth at the top while people below were suffering. And now we see the dynamic playing out in first century Jerusalem.
While the particulars of the situation Jesus is addressing may be limited to the state of affairs in Jerusalem at the time, they are another instance of something that has been abiding in God’s world from the beginning – man is not meant to oppress other men. People are not meant to enjoy prosperity while their fellow man suffers deprivation. It isn’t just a feature of corruption in Jerusalem, but rather something God will have stand wherever His people are and wherever His reign is to be found.
It falls to us to speak out in favor of the poor and the oppressed and work for the reversal of that situation – not with the tools this present world uses to get its way, but by the power of faithful testimony and the Spirit. By living out in our churches, our communities, and in “the nations” a world where those who have much share with those who have little, and those with power use it for the benefit – the service – of those who are under them, or perhaps even completely powerless – by living out that world, we bring the new creation into this one.We testify that a new world has come and we are citizens of it. We testify that the traditional uses of power and wealth have no place in the new creation, and those who insist on being allied to that system and perpetuating it will find themselves outside its doors.
And this is a call, too, for us to examine ourselves. Are we living this way? Which group have we signed up for? Which group are we actively trying to get into? How do we use our wealth and our power? Is it for the benefit of those without either?
What would your home, your church, your business, your community – what would it all look like if we decided to use everything we have been given and everything we have achieved for the benefit of those who do not have those things?
- Go ahead and take a few minutes to read Psalm 37. It won’t take long. Are there other parts of the Psalm that give insight into Jesus’ sermon? Are there any parts that speak to you?
- God is gentle with us in our path to obedience. It is almost a certainty that if you are able to read this, you are in a position above where other people are and have things they don’t. Ask God how you can begin a process of leaving behind a group of privilege to become brothers and sisters with the meek.