Discovering a Beatitude Filled Life
“Blessed are the meek…”
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 2/23/2014
Based on Matthew 5:5
As we take time to look deeper into Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as presented in the Gospel of Matthew, it is my hope that we will continue to gain a better sense of just how counter-cultural Jesus and his teachings were not just to those listening to his message in the First Century, but also to us living in the Twenty-first century. Those who were listening to Jesus were living in an occupied land by an empire that thrived on physical force and brutality. They were living in a world where there was a common believe of multiple gods. The world of Jesus saw the majority of people living in poverty while only a few enjoyed the wealth.
The Beatitudes, the “blessed are they” teachings are often understood by modern listeners as a guide of “how to get to heaven”, which really is limiting the depth of what Jesus was saying. As the church matured over the centuries, it has somehow taken Jesus and his teachings as dealing with life in the future; a future that most refer to as Heaven which is outside of our physical grasp, the place where God lives. But that is not the message that Jesus spoke, especially in this sermon.
As we read Matthews account of this sermon it is easy to get a mental picture of gentle rolling hills, covered in grass and possibly patches of wildflowers adorning the landscape, with large shade trees for those listening to be shaded from the bright sun. Jesus is at the very head of this gathering of people with his disciples sitting closest to him and then the crowed below them. Possibly Peter has his steno pad out recording every word that Jesus is speaking. Within this particular scene we can easily image Jesus’ demeanor as very mild, timid, dare I say even meek! This image is a result of skilled story telling.
When we read scripture, one of the things that we must keep in mind is that these words are also literature. For Matthew, it is the telling a story about how God came down and lived among us in the person of Jesus. One of the primary messages of Jesus, as Matthew presents it is the revelation that God is among us, making God’s kingdom present here on earth. So, for Matthew the best way to present what is going to be told in his Gospel is to take the collective teachings of Jesus’ three year ministry and present them in one full sermon. In this way Matthew can draw upon these basic tenets of what life in the kingdom of God is like throughout the rest of his story about Jesus’ ministry. It is unfortunate that over time the church has moved Jesus’ message from a call for “engaged living” of the present to that of salvation in the future; we have lost Jesus’ call to be living in the present.
Because of the Beatitudes being so counter intuitive to how we experience life I can see why we want to take these teachings of how the Kingdom of God is and put them beyond our physical world. Blessed are the poor. I don’t know about you, but I never was taught by my parents that it should be a goal to be poor, even in spirit. As a society, we work hard at protecting our egos and teach that self is the key to success. Blessed are those who mourn. The last thing that we like to do is acknowledge loss. As a society we are afraid of death, we are afraid of being alone, we do not trust others with our feelings because it makes us vulnerable. Interestingly enough, it is through our vulnerability that we are able to find that comfort that we so long for.
Blessed are the meek. It seems like with each new “blessed”, Jesus is cutting deeper and deeper into what our society values most. Meekness is one word that is about the most un-American ideal that I can think of. Our national symbol of strength is the American Bald Eagle – a bird of prey. Again, most parents do not desire that their children be meek, but rather strong, exertive, the leader of the pack; maybe the team captain or head cheerleader, but never the person who stands back quietly unobserved in the corner of the room.
Meekness in our culture is seen as mousy, withdrawn, and weak. (Just as a side thought, this is the image that the church has assigned to Jesus, which possibly might be one reason why we see a lack of men in our faith communities.) If ever there was a word or concept that has been most perverted by our culture it is the understanding of what “meek” is. To think that the meek shall inherit the earth is a total absurdity as we understand meek, which should lead us to ask the question, “Have we possibly misunderstood what it means to be meek?”
It doesn’t help that the Greek word for meek “praus” means mild, gentle, unassuming; attributes that do not lend itself to becoming the president of a company or a CEO of a large corporation. So what does Jesus mean when he says the meek shall inherit the earth? We must remember that Jesus is talking about being in relationship with God, so if we think of meekness as being directable by God, or being leadable by God, then meekness becomes a strength, because it is an opening for God to use us.
J.R.R. Tolkien puts meekness into physical form through his creation of the Hobbits. The hobbits live, not in a towering fortress, but in small earthen huts. Hobbits are “shy of the Big People.” They are not consumers; they give presents to others on their own birthdays; they are unfailingly supportive in friendship – as they must be, precisely because they are small! Lacking in acquisitiveness and lust for power, they are the ideal protagonists to destroy the ring of power (in the story of Lord of the Rings), for they alone don’t want power, which corrupts those big people who pant for it in their desire to be even bigger. The Beatitudes for Today, by James Howell In essence they understand “who they are” – they are unassuming - meek.
The Beatitudes can be thought as a progression of behaviors where you cannot move forward in each “blessing” without possessing the previous “blessing”. You can not possess meekness without first emptying yourself so that God can live within your heart, mind, and soul. You cannot mourn over the injustice and lack of mercy until you are poor in spirit. You cannot live in the power of meekness until you mourned the lack of God’s presence being fully expressed here on earth.
Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr is a prime example of meekness, as he was a man who held little statue in a white society, yet spoke out God’s truth of justice that forced a government to recognize the inequality of racism and to take steps to provide equal protection under law of its citizens. Gandhi is another example of meekness as he topped British Imperialism in his country of India. Both of these men used non-violence as the vehicle for challenge and change. Mother Teresa is another person who demonstrated the power of meekness by challenging societies views on poverty and the human treatment of each human life.
Yesterday at the Hot Cakes and Hot Topics those who were in attendance had the opportunity to meet and listen to a young man and a young woman who also embodies the power of meekness. They are two Israelis who are working toward peace within the Israeli and Palestinian community in Israel, by sharing with the world stories of the inhumane behavior of Zionism against the Palestinian people. They are a modern day Martin Luther King, Jr., or a Gandhi, or a Mother Teresa. In listening to Eran’s story, you realize that through his meekness he is wheeling more power than he ever did as an Israeli soldier carrying a gun.
As we strive to deepen our relationship with God, to help promote the reality that God is here with us in the present, we need to discover how meekness is an essential quality in building up God’s kin-dom. We live in a world where many do not wish to become poor in spirit, yet it is in this poverty of spirit that we are able to gain the proper prospective of who we are in God’s kin-dom. This is where meekness finds its strength. The world ultimately responds to the meek in a positive way because it shows the injustices that are present and challenges humanity to become better than it is. As a child of God it is imperative that we become meek, to allow ourselves to be usable to God, in God’s kin-dom here on earth. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Amen