We’re engaging the Sermon on the Mount this Fall. Together, we’re letting Jesus teach us what it looks like to be a disciple. And together, we’re seeking to listen and obey, and so build our lives on the solid foundation of Christ and his word.
Jesus begins his sermon with a series of blessings.
We’ve been saying that these blessings, the beatitudes, characterize those who are on the right track. These are the people who have been touched by the gospel, and who are living in Sync with the values of God’s Kingdom.
Please stand to receive the world of the Lord. And when I get to the beatitudes, please read them with me.
Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the Meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Dear friends of Jesus Christ,
Jesus says: Blessed are the meek. Meek is not a word we use much anymore. Its lost some of its currency.
I looked it up in the Oxford English dictionary, and this is its definition:
Meek = Quiet, gentle, easily imposed on; submissive.
Meek people are the ones who don’t speak up in class. In group projects, the meek submit to the group without making a fuss. If someone is walking towards them on the sidewalk, they move out of the way.
If you’ve ever been to a dog park, its not hard to spot the meek dog in the crowd. She is always cowering at her master’s feet; he rolls over on his back when the other dogs start to play rough.
Are these the kind of people Jesus’ blesses in this parable?
Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus does say that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Maybe the meek ones are the ones who come in last?
While the easily pushed aside do have a special place in Christ’s heart, I don’t think this is what Jesus means by meek. Not in this beatitude.
You know, most of us are aware of the sin of presumption. This is the sin of thinking more highly of yourself than you ought.
In the 90’s, there was a cartoon on T.V. called Pinky and the Brain. Pinky and Brain were lab rats who shared a cage.
Brain embodied the sin of presumption. He had a one track mind. His mission was world domination.
“What are we going to do tonight, Brain?” Pinky would ask. “The same thing we do every night,” Brain would respond, “Try and take over the world.”
Brain had a high view of himself. He believed that he should be running the world. But, in reality, he was just a smarter than average, lab rat.
In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve presumed to know better than God. God had said: “Don’t eat from that tree.” But through the serpent’s prodding they thought, “Why shouldn’t we from that tree? Its desirable? And besides, when we eat it, we’ll be like God!
Presumption flows out of pride. Its an example of the creature overstepping their bounds and pretending to be boss.
To be Meek, is to eschew pride. The meek do not race after power. They are content with their place.
But this doesn’t mean that the meek are wimps or doormats, or easily imposed upon.
There’s a sin at the opposite side of the spectrum that is nearly as common and just as dangerous as presumption. Let me introduce you another forgotten word: Pusillanimity.
For obvious reasons, we don’t use this world anymore. But its meaning is still important. It means smallness of Spirit. Or Fainthearted. The pusillanimous think less of themselves than they ought.They avoid difficult things for fear of failure. They keep their mouth clothed, when the should speak up.
Think of Symba, in the Lion King. His rightful place in the universe was to rule the Savannah on this Father’s throne. But Symba didn’t want to go back to pride rock to face the challenges at home. He preferred to live the Hakuna Matada life with Pumba and Simon.
In the parable of the Talents, the King criticizes the servant who buried his talents. “Why did you bury the money?” the King asks. “I buried it because I was afraid” the servant said.
True Meekness is opposed to presumption. But its also opposed to pusillanimity.
Perhaps its helpful to think about meekness as resting confidently between these two poles.
The Meek don’t think of themselves more highly than they ought. But nor are they fainthearted doormats. Rather, they are content to be the person that God created them to be. And they have learned to submit themselves to his authority, come what may.
The greek word for meek is “praeis”. This word was occasionally used by ancient people to refer to tamed animals.
Think of a horse. A broken horse. And by broken, you know what I mean right? I don’t mean, a heap of bones on the floor. To break a horse is to make a horse rideable. The goal for a horse trainer is not to snuff out the horse’s spirit. The goal, rather, is to harness the power of the horse, so that that power can become useful in the rider’s hands.
Its a thing of pure beauty, to see the constrained power of a tamed horse.
I find this image tremendously helpful for understanding what Jesus means by Meek. The meek ones are the ones content to let Jesus take the reigns of their life. Their will is not killed, but dialled in. Their personhood is not snuffed out, but broken, so as to become useful in the hands of God.
No one becomes like this, naturally. Meekness, as Jesus defines it, is not a fruit of nature, but a result of grace. If the gospel has not taken root in you, you will fight the halter and spit out the bit. But if Jesus and his Kingdom have captivated your heart, then you’ll let Jesus take the reigns.
It comes down to trust, really. Do you trust the good Shepherd?
The meek do, and they are on the right track, says Jesus. They will inherit the earth.
Most bible scholars believe that Psalm 37 is the backdrop for the this beatitude. Four times in this Psalm, the phrase “They shall inherit the Earth” shows up.
So what’s this Psalm about?
Psalm 37 engages a real and frustrating problem: Why is it that the wicked prosper? If this world really belongs to the Lord, then why do the greedy get ahead?
The Psalmist acknowledges that this is indeed the case. But then, the Psalmist encourages the one who asks this question to put their trust in the Lord. Here are some snippets from the Psalm:
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. Psalm 37:1-2
Commit your way to the Lord…
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun. Psalm 37:5-6
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 37:10-11
Essentially, the Psalmist is reassuring the reader that the world belongs to God. The wicked may have their day of fun, but the earth doesn’t belong to them and it will be taken away from them.
It will be like it was during the days of Noah.
Noah, you’ll recall, was made fun of by everyone as he obediently made his ridiculously huge boat. Everyone made fun of him, until the rains started to fall and the flood waters rose. And after God’s judgment of earth was complete, only Noah and his family were left. Only they inherited the earth.
So it will be when Jesus returns to judge the living and the dead.
The meek have set their heart on Jesus and his Kingdom. They know there’s no need to join the greedy who grab, because the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. And they belong to the Lord. So the earth is there’s.
The meek can commit their ways to the Lord, because they know that whatever happens to them in this life, their lives are safe in Christ, who conquered the grave.
Darrel Johnson says that the meek are anchored in the eternal. I like that. Anchored in the Eternal. They exude a quiet steadiness, and a confident faithfulness. The meek are hardly weak. It takes great strength to resist the crowd and stay true to Christ. The meek are hardly weak. They are the salt of the earth.
Two people in scripture are called meek, and I think we can learn from their example.
Firstly, Moses was called meek. Its almost a little footnote in the text. The NIV has it in brackets. But there is is.
We know that Moses was naturally a little shy. When God called him to lead his people out of Egypt, Moses baulked. He made all kinds of excuses. But God was a persistent trainer with Moses. And slowly, Moses learned to trust God’s leadership.
The context in which Moses is called meek is an interesting one. At a stage in his leadership, the people close to him are starting to question his authority. Aaron and Miriam, specifically, are getting a little tired playing second fiddle. “Why does God only speak through you Moses?” They ask. Why couldn’t he also speak to the people through us?
How does Moses respond to this mutiny from within his ranks? Well, even though this was a shameful thing for Miriam and Aaron to do, Moses doesn’t respond by defending his honour, or getting defensive. Instead, he quietly gives Aaron and Miriam over to the Lord.
And the Lord shows up in a powerful way. The Lord puts these two back in their place, and he even inflicts Miriam with leprosy.
This would be a good opportunity for Moses to say: “Take that, Miriam”. You deserve that. But he doesn’t. No, he begins to pray. And he asks God to spare Miriam.
Moses doesn’t return evil for evil. Rather, he takes the poison out of this situation by praying for the one who insulted him.
One of the hallmarks of a meek man or woman is that they are not quick to defend themselves or their honour. Those not broken in by the gospel fight back, try to save face, and prop up their public image. But those who are yoked to Christ, patiently endure, offer prayer for their enemies, and are forceful with speech only when God’s honour is at stake.
In Sync are the meek; they will inherit the earth.
The other person in scripture who is described as meek, is Jesus himself.
Jesus is the picture of restrained strength. Dialed in power. He did not think of himself as being above God, nor was he wimpy or fainthearted. From day one, Jesus let the Father take the reigns of his life.
They only time Jesus was aggressive was when true worship was being violated in the temple. The money men had moved in, and prayer had been forced out. So, defending God’s honour, Jesus overturned the tables.
When the devil tempted Jesus to trade worship for power, Jesus cooly responded with the word of the Lord. It is written, Jesus said: Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.
Perhaps Christ’s Meekness is best seen in his trial, and crucifixion death.
Not my will, but yours be done, Jesus prayed in the Garden.
And when Peter took out the sword to fight the guards, Jesus told Peter to put the sword away. Its not the violent, after all, who will inherit the earth.
Jesus barely said anything during his bogus trial. He didn’t defend himself, nor did he curse the crowds under his breath. In fact, he asked God to forgiven them, because they didn’t know what they were doing.
Anchored in the eternal, Jesus carried his cross. He had the power to come down from the cross. He had the power to call down legions of Angels to fight for him. But he had restrained his power, and was channeling it for Father’s glory.
He died trusting whole-heartedly in Psalm 37’s promise:
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…
For those who are evil will be destroyed,
but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.
And of course, God stayed true to the promises made in Psalm 37. For 3 days later, Jesus was raised from the dead. And now, says the scriptures, he sits at the right hand of God. The meek one, on the throne of power.
Dear friends… I encourage you this morning, to let Jesus take the reigns of your life and let him channel your power for good. You can trust him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.
In him, you will find a sublime simplicity. The kind your heart desires.
Under his leadership, you will become anchored to the eternal and not blown back and forth by the winds of change.
Fortunate are the meek. Blessed are they. For they will inherit the earth.