Matthew 5:5 – Blessed Are the Meek

Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth. (NIV)

To give us a flavor of Christ’s counter-cultural Beatitudes, when was the last time, or has anyone ever, described themselves to you as meek?

Whenever I have interviewed people for positions, both paid and voluntary, and asked them to tell me their strengths, I have never had anyone say to me, “I’m a meek person.”

Why would I want to be meek?

Far too often, we equate meek with weak. If someone is meek, we may wrongly reason they must be a washrag, or overly introverted, and maybe not taking proper initiative in life. Of all the character qualities we might aspire to, I doubt that meekness is on anyone’s top ten list of desired qualities.

Yet, of the few words in the Gospels which Jesus uses to describe himself, one of those words is meek. And even then, many English translations steer clear of the word. For example, the New International Version of the Bible says in translating the words of Jesus, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Only the King James Version translates the word as “meek,” instead of “gentle.”)

What does it mean to be meek?

Meek and gentle are the same words. The original Greek word is πραεῖς (pronounced “prah-ace”). “Meek” is the word used in other ancient Greek literature for breaking a horse. It is to be changed from being a wild stallion who wants to go his own way, to a broken horse who is gentle before the Master and allows others on his back without bucking.

Consider, for example, the scene around Christ’s crucifixion. Jesus was naked, exposed, and vulnerable to the idle curiosity of the crowd and the vulgar frivolity of the soldiers who were having a party around his suffering. “If you are the king of the Jews,” they taunted, “save yourself.”

And yet the extraordinary thing is there was no spirit of revenge with our Lord. Jesus did not curse his tormentors. Instead, he prayed, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:24)

It is important to notice the meekness that Jesus is speaking about in this Beatitude is not being a pushover. Meekness is not to be confused with being nice and easy-going. Meek and lowly as he was, Jesus could also take a whip to greedy money-changers in the Temple. We must not confuse meekness with weakness.

What characterizes a meek person?

Whereas poverty of spirit is more a humility before God, meekness is a humility toward other people. It is to be flat on our backs with only one way to look: up to God; and because we are in that position, there is no opportunity to look down on others. 

Meekness is a foundational Beatitude. Jesus considers it a necessary part of righteousness. I believe the word “meek” needs a renaissance. Even if we use the word “gentle” this will be a great advancement in how people interact with one another. So, what characterizes a meek person?

  • The meek have a desire to put other’s interests ahead of their own, because they know it is not all about them. They practice healthy rhythms of giving and receiving with others, without prejudice or favoritism.
  • The meek are more concerned with edifying and building up their brothers and sisters than justifying themselves. They don’t care who gets the credit. And they receive criticism well.
  • The meek are truly egalitarian and do all things with equity and inclusion. They make no distinctions between rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, intelligent and cognitive deficits, black and white, gay and straight, Democrat and Republican, or insider and outsider. In the meek person’s mind, every person is created in the image of God and therefore deserves respect, attention, and justice.

It is the meek who will inherit the earth – not aggressive people who believe in survival of the fittest, stepping on people to get where they want to go, or badgering others in order to get their way. 

Someone might protest, “But if I live this way, I’ll be pushed around.”  Meekness is not living without boundaries but is power under control. Maybe you will get stepped on – but you will inherit the earth.

How do I live as a meek person?

The three Beatitudes of being poor in spirit, mourning over sin, and meekness toward others are foundational to all that Jesus says and does. They are central to being Christ’s follower. Without them, there is only a contrived legalistic righteousness of our own without any real need of God. That is the way of pride, which is the straight and broad road to hell. 

Perhaps repentance is in order. It could be that too many people have made much more of themselves than what they truly are. Maybe we have adopted a soft attitude toward shame and shaming others, believing that some people need a bit of guilt from us to change their obnoxious ways. Perhaps we have paid scant attention to those who are in physical or spiritual poverty. And just maybe we have ignored and gossiped about others simply because we believe we are better than them.

A genuine follower of Christ lives a repentant lifestyle. The Apostle James said, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).  The way of Christ is the way of community. We are not to live ingenuine lives, hiding behind a mask of outward conformity. Now is the time for authenticity, living life as God intended it to be lived, as a disciple of Jesus in the way of spiritual poverty, mourning, and meekness – the narrow path that leads to salvation.

Non-retaliation happens when we realize our poverty of spirit and practice grief and lament. When we are flat on our backs before God, there is no place to look but up. And it means there is no ability to look down on others. It is to be broken and moldable before God. 

If you and I were part of the original crowd that listened to Jesus, there is hope. I have no ability to practice retaliation, even if I wanted to, because I have no earthly power. But that’s okay because, in this spirit of meekness, I take personal responsibility for my attitudes and my actions. I am neither worse nor better than any other person. I do not need to retaliate, even when egregiously wronged, because I can fully entrust myself to God alone who judges the living and the dead. 

Conclusion

It turns out that brokenness is the path to genuine righteousness. Jesus promised that the meek will inherit the earth. Christ didn’t just make that up. He was quoting Holy Scripture:

Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
    your vindication like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
    but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
    though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land
    and enjoy peace and prosperity. (Psalm 37:1-11, NIV)

Jesus was saying that only the truly meek will learn contentment, joy, and satisfaction. Their ego is not so inflated that they insist they deserve more. Indeed, because as God’s people they are learning from him, the meek understand they are co-heirs with Christ in an inheritance of God’s kingdom.

May your meekness and gentleness be known to all.

*Above painting by Hyatt Moore

Psalm 119:113-128 – How to Change Our Spiritual Taste Buds

I hate anyone
whose loyalty is divided,
    but I love your Law.
You are my place of safety
and my shield.
    Your word is my only hope.

All of you worthless people,
    get away from me!
    I am determined to obey
    the commands of my God.

Be true to your word, Lord.
    Keep me alive and strong;
    don’t let me be ashamed
    because of my hope.
Keep me safe and secure,
    so that I will always
    respect your laws.
You reject all deceitful liars
    because they refuse
    your teachings.
As far as you are concerned,
all evil people are garbage,
    and so I follow your rules.
I tremble all over
when I think of you

    and the way you judge.

I did what was fair and right!
    Don’t hand me over to those
    who want to mistreat me.
Take good care of me,
    your servant,
    and don’t let me be harmed
    by those conceited people.
My eyes are weary from waiting
    to see you keep your promise
    to come and save me.
Show your love for me,
your servant,
    and teach me your laws.
I serve you,
so let me understand
    your teachings.
    Do something, Lord!
    They have broken your Law.
Your laws mean more to me
    than the finest gold.
I follow all of your commands,
    but I hate anyone
    who leads me astray.
(Contemporary English Version)

Some people try to avoid doing wrong and always try to do right. Others either bulldoze or sleepwalk through life, doing what they will, with impunity. Yet others try to steer clear of egregious sin, while indulging in so-called minor sins. 

Sin is messy business. No matter the form or the attempt at dealing with or without sin, the bottom line is that we all sin because we like it. We might not like the consequences of sin, but it tastes good while doing it.

That’s why we need a complete re-orienting of our hearts to hate every way contrary to God’s good commands. The psalmist proclaims and affirms that all God’s precepts are right, hating every false path which deviates from the true and good. 

If we sin because we like it, the way to avoid sin is learning to hate it – to loathe it so badly that it’s like a nasty stench in our nostrils. Hating sin comes from the acquired taste of loving God’s commandments. When we come around to cherish and desire God’s Word, then sin gradually becomes so odious that we want nothing to do with it.

The reason the psalmist could proclaim such an extended love song to the commands of God, is that he tasted how good they were. And it caused him to forsake every dubious way to human enjoyment. 

The reason I constantly encourage myself and others to read Scripture every single day, with a solid plan of spiritual rhythms, is that it really does have the power to change our taste buds. Sustained, consistent, daily eating of the psalms will teach us to want God and God’s ways – while forsaking the dark path of insolence and oppression.

The psalmist committed himself to avoiding worthless situations, as well as steering clear of harmful people with the propensity to doing wrong. These are fickle, double-minded people, divided in their loyalties. On one side of their mouth, they talk a good line about faith; and then talk out the other side of their mouth, spewing a bunch of worthless gobbledygook which, at the least, adds no value to anything, and, at worst, wrecks good plans and harms others.

If there are people in authority over us who don’t give a wit about our most cherished values, we will likely find ourselves tasked with doing things which rub against our understanding of God’s Word. In this state of moral distress, we are pushed, pulled, and tested in our single-minded devotion by the double-minded person to do what we are uncomfortable with.

In the stress and crucible of trouble, we need the courage to speak up, despite the fear of repercussions. And that strength will only be possible if we have a resilient spirit with the capacity to sustain our personal integrity in the face of our distress. That is, we need God and God’s Holy Word.

Scripture and fellow believers provide support because we need to care for one another as a community of redeemed persons who seek to live into the words of ways of almighty God.

It can be tricky business, wisely trying to discern between what we must accept and what we need to pushback against. Yet, with God, God’s Word, and God’s people, we possess all the resources required in living the spiritual life and navigating the sinful world we inhabit.

God Almighty, I pray that you will deal with me according to your steadfast love and teach me your statutes.  I am your servant; give me understanding so that I might know and live by your commands and forsake the evil of the world, through Jesus Christ my Lord, in the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 – Just Like a Cedar of Lebanon

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
    to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
    and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp,
    to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
    at the works of your hands I sing for joy….

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
    and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the Lord;
    they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
    they are always green and full of sap,
showing that the Lord is upright;
    he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
(New Revised Standard Version)

The Lebanon Cedar tree is the national symbol of the nation of Lebanon, displayed on their national flag. Throughout history, this massive tree has served as a positive image of strength, stability, and uprightness.

Although the tree grows to about eighty feet, what is most impressive about the Lebanon Cedar is it’s large canopy, with branches stretching out to fifty feet. Thus, we have an apt metaphor for the spiritual life.

Whenever we engage in consistent rhythms of giving thanks for God’s steadfast love in the morning and expressing gratitude for the Lord’s great faithfulness at night, we not only grow up in our faith – stretching vertically toward God – we also grow horizontally, reaching out and being a canopy of righteousness for those who need safety, security, and sameness.

Human flourishing occurs deliberately, not by happenstance. It takes intentional work in attending to the development of the soul, the needs of the body, educating the mind, and feeling deeply about things so that the whole person thrives and enjoys life.

Yes, the body grows old and we all must die. Yet, although we might physically waste away, our inner selves can continue growing strong and spreading a wide canopy of righteousness that branches out with grace.

Unfortunately, the great forests of cedars in Lebanon have dwindled over the centuries to 13% of what they once were, due to over-harvesting its wood for shipbuilding, furniture making, and other uses. Even old King Solomon used Lebanon Cedars as the timber for the original Temple to God. Today, the oldest trees still surviving are 3,000 years old – which makes them truly biblical trees.

Indeed, in old age they are still producing cones and sap. The cedars are a testament to strength, resilience, and staying power. And that is exactly what the Lord wants to produce in us – a massive testimony of faith and patience, rooted in the soil of God’s grace, slowly but surely growing for the benefit of others.

This growth is a direct result of God’s activity. The Lord nourishes and sustains humanity, providing the right conditions of righteous soil, living water from heaven, and the warm sun of grace and mercy. We are then able to stretch both tall and wide, becoming an earthly manifestation of God’s goodness.

The Lord doesn’t keep us down but extends abundant grace so that we can extend to others that which has been extended to us. And if we keep maintaining this divine/human rhythm of grace, there is an ongoing and seemingly endless process of growth, even across three millennia.

The Lebanon Cedar is one of the most hardy trees on the planet. It’s thick trunk, expansive branches, resistance to worms and insects, and fragrance make it an apt emblem for the spiritual life. The righteous person is like this majestic unwavering tree, standing as a testimony to longevity, strength, beauty, and usefulness in the world.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:16-21, NIV)

Psalm 46 – Divine Help

Psalm 46:1 by Connie Van Huss

God is our refuge and strength,
    a help always near in times of great trouble.
That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,
    when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,
    when its waters roar and rage,
    when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.

There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city,
    the holiest dwelling of the Most High.
God is in that city. It will never crumble.
    God will help it when morning dawns.
Nations roar; kingdoms crumble.
    God utters his voice; the earth melts.
The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!
    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. 

Come, see the Lord’s deeds,
    what devastation he has imposed on the earth—
    bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world,
    breaking the bow and shattering the spear,
        burning chariots with fire.

“That’s enough! Now know that I am God!
    I am exalted among all nations; I am exalted throughout the world!”

The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!
    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. (CEB)

We possess the unconditional presence of God. Yes indeed, the Lord of all creation is always with us. What a wonderful and radical thought!  But that is not all. What is more, God helps us. The Lord does not stand by idly to watch us squirm in tough situations. Because God is present with you and I, there is divine assistance which can help us in troubling times.

Something we can all seem to agree on is that we are in times of trouble and hardship. Everyone is collectively experiencing adversity. COVID-19 has punched us in our worldly gut and caused us to bend over, writhing in pain. We need the Lord. We require Divine help.

The psalms, as Hebrew poetry, were designed with a certain structure. Unlike the way we arrange things with a thesis statement said right up front, Hebrew poetry has the most important statement smack in the middle of the psalm. What comes before that statement is a growing crescendo meant to highlight the central idea. Everything that comes after is the decrescendo pointing back to the main idea.

What we have in the middle of today’s magnificent psalm is the important truth that the Lord of heavenly forces is with us. This reality is meant to drop its weight on us so that we will feel the impact of God’s presence and power. Consider some of English translations of the Hebrew statement:

The Lord All-Powerful is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress. (CEV)

The Lord of Armies is with us. The God of Jacob is our stronghold. (GW)

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us. (MSG)

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (NIV)

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress. (NLT)

Yahweh of Armies is with us. Jacob’s God is a turret for us. (FT)

Today (and everyday) is a good day to use the statement, “The Lord of heavenly forces is with us,” as a point of thought, contemplation, and deep consideration. God has the back of those who do right and seek to be just in all things. Whenever you are waiting, driving in the car, in-between scheduled stuff, or just sitting at home, repeat this biblical statement many times to yourself and to the Lord. Then, allow God’s Spirit to bring the truth of it home to the depths of your soul. There is no better security, no better hope than to know God is with us.

God Almighty, great upheaval in this world does not make you nervous because you are above it all.  Thank you that you are with me in all the great churnings of my life, as well as all the small things of trouble.  Even if all around me changes, you do not; through Christ my Savior, I pray. Amen.