Article : BLESSED ARE THE MEEK | Pr. V. P. Philip
Sermon on the Mount: fundamental of Jesus’ teaching
Pastor V P Philip
Jesus was a communicator par-excellence. He used a three-fold method of communication – preaching, teaching and healing. Matthew chapter five begins with a background of His sermon, “and seeing the multitudes, he went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them saying…” Gospel of Matthew chapters 5-7 is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount. It is not only a ‘sermon’ in the broader sense, but consists of the essence of Jesus’ teaching. Here Jesus gave his definition of true righteousness.
The Sermon on the Mount is the basis of all of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus’ principles are completely different from the principles of the world. The Sermon on the Mount served as an extended example of Jesus’ preaching of repentance and the Kingdom of God. Jesus spoke on this occasion mainly to His twelve disciples, but others also listened and were amazed at His teaching (Mt 7:28).
Many people all over the world were influenced by these teachings. What is the relevance of Jesus’ teachings today? The new era of globalization and modernization raises new challenges against the value of life and humanity – therefore it is imperative that even today His teachings need to be interpreted. Many Christians today face many atrocities in their life and mission. I believe that this study will help us to face the struggles of life with greater calm and confidence.
The essence of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount lies in the Beatitudes which is described in the first part of the sermon. In the gospel of Mathew there are nine Beatitudes, only four of which are found in the gospel of Luke. The four common Beatitudes referred to are the poor, the hungry, those who weep and those who are persecuted. Mathew had added five further Beatitudes which are found in his Gospel alone; the blessings on the meek (Mt 5:5), the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and a second saying concerning the persecuted (Mt 5:7-8).
Blessed are the meek
The third beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (V.5) is a quotation from Ps. 37:11. This passage connects with Ps. 37:22, where the psalm says “those blessed by the Lord shall inherit the land.”
The meaning of “meek” therefore is essentially the same as “poor in spirit.” Adrian Leske comments that, possession of the land became a real concern for the returning exiles who hoped that they would be able to reclaim their ancestral home. But for many this remained only a pious hope (Is 57: 13; 60:21) of which Psalm 37 became the concise expression. The concept of inheriting the land in Jesus’ teaching, functions as a figure for experiencing God’s just rule through inheriting the Kingdom.
What is meekness?
Two related Hebrew words (‘ani’ and ‘anaw’) lie behind the occurrences of ‘meek’ and ‘meekness’ in the Bible. Their meanings is not ‘meek’ in the modern English sense of ‘mild and self-effacing’ but ‘abased’ and so ‘afflicted,’ ‘distressed,’ ‘lowly,’ ‘poor.’
According to William Barclay, in our modern English idiom, the word ‘meek’ is hardly one of the honourable words of life. Nowadays it carries the idea of spinelessness, subservience and mean-spiritedness. He retorts to this by saying that the word ‘meek’ – in Greek – praus was one of the great Greek ethical words. Even in the philosophical world praotes had a virtous meaning. Aristotle defines meekness as the mean between orgilotes which means excessive anger and aorgesia which means excessive angerlessness.
As he saw it, meekness is the happy medium between too much and too little anger. R.S. Barbour comments that since Yahweh is proclaimed as the champion of the afflicted and the poor they are promised special blessings. These blessings spring not only from their situation but from the humble, trustful attitudes of mind which so often accompany them. Thus, to be meek is to submit to God’s will at all times, rather than exhibit a particular virtue The word meek means ‘slow to anger’, ‘gentle with others’, and also connoting a form of charity.
How can a person be meek?
Moses was one of the greatest and strongest leaders ever, yet he was truly meek. “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth” – Num. 12:3. We see many instances in the Exodus journey when Moses clearly expressed his impatience at God and with the people. “Why do you contend with me?” he asked, when the people complained for water (Ex 17:2). We are all too familiar of the time when forgetting that it was God who gave the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) on stone tablets, Moses cast it to the ground in sheer anger. But his exquisite meekness is depicted in many other instances like when he heeded to the advice of Jethro in setting up a panel of judges to judge the petty cases of Israel (Ex 18:24). He was also meek in the face of stiff contradiction and rebellion of people like Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Num 16) who wished to usurp his God-given authority. God himself testified and attested the meekness of Moses as “most meek…on the face of the earth”.
Patience and self control are elements of meekness that demonstrate true inner strength. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Pro. 16:32). Both patience and self-control are mentioned as gifts of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23) and that itself shows the importance attached to them. A person who is meek in the spirit needs essentially to be one who can control his spirit and that includes controlling anger and other passions as well.
The ability to respond to anger with gentleness is yet another feature of meekness. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Pro. 15:1). It was the soft answer of Abigail -wife of the churlish Nabal that turned away the wrath of David who was bent on the destruction of Nabal and his entire household (1 Sam 25:25-31).
Praying for your enemies and doing good to / for them will help us learn meekness. “Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” Jesus said (Lk. 6:28). Paul exclaims that in doing good to those that hurt us and spitefully use us, we heap coals of fire on their heads (Rom 12:20; cf Prov 25:21-22).
Rewards of meekness
When Jesus was speaking this Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”, He was clearly speaking to a congregation that was Old Testament in nature and who understood the promises of God in the context of the Covenants all of which contained a provision of land – the Abrahamic covenant was cemented in Yahweh’s promise of a land (Gen 12:1 “…to a land that I will show you” (Heb 11:8). But as seen in His giving new meaning to the Decalogue and other civil laws mentioned in the Book of Moses (Mt 5:21-48), here too Jesus does not mean a temporal land.
Matthew Henry supports this view by saying that “they shall inherit the Earth” does not mean that they will always have much of the Earth. According to him, the meek and quiet are observed to live the easiest lives compared with the forward and turbulent. It means the land of Canaan, a type of Heaven, the blessedness of Heaven above and of the earth beneath are portions of the meek.
In times such as this where globalization and related trends are fast catching up with society and even with the church, the importance of meekness cannot be overstated. Jesus’ idea of meekness does not seem to get much following in today’s ‘knowledge-is-money, money-is-power and power-is-everything world’. But we cannot compromise with these values. The great challenge before us, the church, is to return to the values that Jesus wished to instigate and inculcate in His Church. Carrying the cross is in itself the mark of true meekness.
Pr. V. P. Philip