February 5, 2023
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-5, 20:20-24
One of the things that Jesus had to contend with in his short ministry was the fact that he was convinced that the dominant ideas about God and what God wanted from people were clearly off base.
So he regularly (and particularly in Sermon on the Mount) wanted to draw a dramatic contrast with popular opinion about things religious or spiritual. “You have heard it said… but I say to you,” he said again and again.
We always have that problem. For one reason or another, we distort the original meanings of God’s word to us and it needs occasional correction. That’s quite true about today’s Beatitude: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
My guess is: not one of us has a little reminder on our refrigerator that says: “Today, I am going to be more meek!” It’s not a goal and instead quite the opposite.
This Beatitude is a tough one for me. I’m pretty sure I know more about what meekness ISN’T than I know about what it IS. I know what it isn’t at the extreme on one side and I know what it isn’t at the extreme on the other side. It’s the middle where I believe the truth is, and that’s harder to come by.
On the one side of what it isn’t, is a definition that a guy by the name of H.T. Webster gave us. He lived from the late 1800’s to the mid 1950’s. He was an illustrator and worked for a newspaper in Cincinnati for a while. He became fascinated both by great boastful and arrogant people and by wimpy, cowardly people. The character that made Mr. Webster’s career was Casper Milquetoast who would in all likelihood be described by the culture as meek.
Casper was a wimp. Afraid, self-deprecating, and totally allergic to standing up for himself. He was small, slump shouldered and the exact opposite of the “life of the party.” Webster published drawings of Milquetoast in single cartoon windows. You might see him standing on the sidewalk beside a little sign that says: “Do not walk on the grass” with Milquetoast’s hat having blown off and coming to rest by the sign. He stands helplessly on the sidewalk, only steps away from his hat with a despondent look on his face: “I guess I’ll have to buy a new hat now. I needed one anyway” says Casper.
Our culture (probably rightly) has no patience with that definition of meekness and very little interest (sadly) in ANY definition of meekness.
On the other side of this issue is a totally different kind of person. These are the people who seem bound and determined to be recognized and to have their names highlighted wherever they go. Arrogant, braggart, proud.
Once, when Jesus and his friends were nearing Jerusalem toward the end of his ministry, Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for his not-so-glorious end. He used words like crucified, mocked, and flogged. They hadn’t signed up for that and they weren’t taking it too well.
The mother of James and John was distressed herself, because she hadn’t figured on this end when her boys signed up! Who could blame her?
She actually kneeled in front of him (begging) and said: “I have a favor to ask. Would you mind giving my sons the top two positions in your kingdom when it comes to pass?” She did it in front of the other 10!
There was no indication that Jesus was startled. He just turned to her two boys and said: “Can you endure the hardships I’m about to endure?” They quickly said: “We are able” while eagerly awaiting their seat assignments! Jesus just said: “Sorry, boys, that’s above my pay grade. But this I promise, you’ll get the suffering part.”
Now, I don’t think God has much affinity for the arrogant self-promoting egotist nor for the fearful, weak, self-deprecating souls. Where’s the middle?
If you want to know the characteristics of the meek, go with me to Psalm 37 which Jesus is probably quoting in this Beatitude. Just listen to the first 9 verses and picture the man or woman who is meek in God’s eyes:
1 Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not be envious of wrongdoers,
2 for they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
live in the land and enjoy security.
4 Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will make your vindication shine like the light
and the justice of your cause like the noonday.
7 Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him;
do not fret over those who prosper in their way,
over those who carry out evil devices.
8 Refrain from anger and forsake wrath.
Do not fret—it leads only to evil.
9 For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
What can I say beyond this succinct psalm? The meek person is neither self-deprecating or self-aggrandizing. He doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about what others think or how much credit he receives. She doesn’t need to get even or put somebody down as retaliation for a slight. The meek don’t think themselves better or worse than they are. It seems to me that when we get meekness right, we think less often about ourselves and more about the one who created us, called us, and sustains us.
What the world needs now is a greater company of the meek. “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”