Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A: 27 February 2011)

Blessed are…the meek

Isaiah 49.8-16a
Matthew 6.24-34

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.

Today, we’re attending to a section of the Sermon on the Mount in partnership with the people Jesus calls ‘the meek’.

I expect that many of us have heard of these words by Charles Wesley at some time:

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
look upon a little child;
pity my simplicity,
suffer me to come to thee.

Jesus was meek, they say. And not only ‘they’ say it. Jesus says it too in these well-known words from Matthew 11.28-30:

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle [meek] and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

What does ‘meek’ mean to you? The Australian Oxford Dictionary has ‘humble and submissive; suffering injury etc. tamely’. Or, if you prefer, ‘piously gentle in nature’. And it doesn’t help that ‘meek’ rhymes with ‘weak’.

Hmm, not sure I wanna be meek any more…

I mean, was Jesus saying, ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am submissive and tame and weak…’? That makes it sound like Jesus really is the bland leading the bland!

It’s time for a very short Greek lesson. The word Matthew used that we translate ‘meek’ was praüs. It’s notoriously difficult to translate some words into other languages, there are subtle (or not-so-subtle) shades of meaning that get lost.

Praüs is hard to translate into English. The word ‘meek’ doesn’t do it justice. Trouble is, there are few other words for praüs. The best possibility is the word ‘gentle’. And that’s good—a person who is gentle is not weak.

A person who is meek—someone with praüs—is a gentle person whose strength is under control. Such a person has no need to show off, to dominate or control others. Such a person is courteous and slow to anger. Blessed are the meek.

The meek are strong, not weak. But the meek are comfortable with sometimes appearing weak to others. The person who is meek can look through and beyond difficult situations to the larger issues.

Perhaps you know someone like that; a gentle giant perhaps, or a leader who isn’t a control freak, or someone who can hold to the larger picture while still caring for people.

What do you think the opposite of meek might be? If we think of meek people as weak people, the opposite might be strong or bold. If we think of the meek as a person whose strength is under their control, then the opposite of meek may be proud, domineering, or unteachable.

When it comes to the leaders of nations, the world needs ‘meek’, but it doesn’t want ‘meek’. And sadly, sometimes the churches don’t want ‘meek’ either.

How would a person who is meek hear what Jesus says today? I think this person would hear Jesus’ words gladly. Why? Because such a person is teachable. This person can receive the Word of God. Those who are meek respond to what the Spirit is saying to them.

It’s hard for the proud to gladly receive the words Jesus speaks today. Listen again:

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

For some people, that’s a bit harsh. They’d prefer ‘Look, it’s really hard to serve two masters, but you can do it. I’ll help you’. But haven’t you noticed? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus doesn’t compromise. No one can serve two masters. Not even Jesus himself could have done that!

A person who is gentle and who has learned to control their strength realises the foolishness of trying to serve two masters, especially when one of those masters is the Lord God. This person is glad to serve the Lord of life. It’s the proud who believe that they can handle two bosses, God and things. It’s the unteachable ones who won’t listen and change.

Let us ask God for the gift of humility and an open heart. Blessed are the meek.

Jesus then says,

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.

Do people who are meek worry less than others? If you think about the ‘normal’ way we think of ‘meek’ being ‘weak’, you might think that the meek would worry more.

But ‘meek people’ are not weak. People who are meek are strong—and their strength is under control. They might appear weak to those who don’t get it.

People who are meek know they have only one Master, God, and that this Master loves them absolutely and for ever. In Isaiah, God says:

For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.’
Can a woman forget her nursing-child,
or show no compassion for the child
of her womb?

Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you
on the palms of my hands…

This is a truly amazing picture of God. In this passage, God is a Mother who has tattooed Jerusalem’s people on the palms of her hands. I imagine that would be a very sensitive place to have a tattoo. This tattoo reminds God of her ‘suffering ones’, each one of her children.

Our names too are tattooed on the palms of God. Those palms remind our compassionate God that we are God’s children, and we are tattooed on the palms of her hands. A person who is meek is not too proud to receive the truth that this God will never ever forget her kids’ names!

A person who is this secure in God’s love is resilient. He can accept that things may not go as expected because he’s not looking at ‘what’s in it for me’. Instead, he is searching out how God may be leading him.

A person who is meek ‘strives first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness’. God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness are deep; they go to the heart of things. It’s not enough not to murder; we are not to hate. It’s not enough not to commit adultery; it is wrong to desire to possess another.

Jesus says,

Look at the birds of the air… Are you not of more value than they?…Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow…do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’

The person who is meek looks around her and drinks in the beauty of God’s world, and sees the abundant evidence that God cares and provides for her. She isn’t worried about what others think of her, or how she’s going to get through tomorrow’s problems—she has enough on her plate today.

Please note though: if you’re meek, you’re not a ‘Pollyanna’ character—you’re not unreasonably optimistic. You don’t ignore the problems of life. You do take them one day at a time, and attend to them one by one.

And if you see someone in need—someone without food or shelter, as we have seen in the recent floods, or someone overwhelmed by his problems—then you help. And you can help as a person who is meek, whose strength is under control, who lives a day at a time.

Jesus says,

Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.

He’s actually quoting Psalm 37.11: ‘the meek shall inherit the land’. This is a future promise. The meek don’t have too much right now—but I think that if there is a meaning in history, it may be a struggle between those who would inherit the earth by violent means, and those who would live meekly and wait for the promise. People who are respected and remembered with love are not the Hitlers and the Gaddafis, but the Ghandis and the Tutus. Those who will work in the Jesus way for reconciliation rather than revenge. They will inherit the earth.

A person who is meek is not weak, but is able to control their strength; he is the humble slave of one master; a person who is meek is confident that her name is tattooed on God’s palm; a person who is meek lives day by day with God and is thereby delivered from worry.

It’s not easy being meek. But: blessed are the meek—they shall inherit the earth!


1 Comment

Filed under church year, RCL, sermon

One response to “Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A: 27 February 2011)

  1. I think the sermon on the mount is presented in the same fashion as Jeremiah’s prophetic discourse and in adherence to the Hebrew anti-festival of Tisha B’Av – the month of mourning. “Blessed are those that mourn”. This festival is documented in Zechariah and continues today. Only Lamentations and mournful scripture is allowed to be read at this time.

    Jeremiah and Lamentations provides the context to understand the sermon on the mount.

    “Lam 3:30 Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, 
   and let him be filled with disgrace.”

    But Jeremiah presents the self deprication as a transitional phase of accepting liability for sins, confessing that Hebrew exile and oppression was purely their own fault through their own disobedience. In the humility and weakness of suffering and exile, the people re-establish their relationship with the merciful God before being returned to the land covenant of Abraham… ‘the meek shall inherit the land’.

    Jesus also quotes Jeremiah in the sermon on the mount. e.g. Matt 5:31 and Jeremiah 3:1 – which makes an interesting context to Jesus teaching on divorce – Jeremiah preaches of national integrity not personal morality.

    Just as Jeremiah spoke to Hebrews dispossessed by a foreign empire, so too did Jesus to his listeners. The agenda of indigenous national liberation of Jeremiah and the prophets is the key to understanding the beattitudes. It is not simply instruction on personal attitude, especially those not suffering under imperial domination such as the middle class church. It is the path to political and economic liberation for the oppressed. “The meek shall inherit the land” is no mystical metaphor for personal piety or psychological transcendence, it really is about land reform.

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