Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
— Matthew 5:5
Meekness isn’t the most valuable virtue in our day and age. In fact, we often struggle to see it as a virtue at all. Even in those who are expected to be obedient to authority – children and employees – no one is likely to list meekness as one of their strengths in a job interview. Few of us pray for children who would be described as meek. Even those who might recognize a natural bent toward compliance or quietness often strive to cast off those characteristics and assert themselves more. I’ve never seen any high school label a graduate with a “Most Likely to be Meek” award.
Meekness in our culture carries a connotation of a doormat: a person characterized by fear and timidity, noticed only for being unworthy of notice. We may picture a mouselike personality who avoids conflict at any cost or never speaks up.
So, is this what Jesus is praising in the third Beatitude?
Is he hopelessly behind the times, a throwback to when children (and women) were to be seen but not heard? Or do we need to change our modern mindset and aim for doormat status, never speaking up or standing out?
Often, when we struggle to make sense of Scripture, it’s not due to a lack of clarity in the passage itself, but rather the cloudiness of the lens though which we’re examining it. In the third beatitude, we have to make sure we’re understanding Jesus’ words with his definitions rather than those of our culture.
The word translated meek in the ESV can also be translated gentle.
Honestly, gentle doesn’t feel much better. It’s certainly a very gendered word in our culture. Even when we use the word gentleman, we tend to mean something more like cultured or well-mannered. It’s okay for our daughters to be gentle, but most of us wouldn’t be excited for a football coach to describe our son that way.
But, I think we can get a little help seeing what Jesus intends in the third Beatitude from the idea of gentleness.
It’s a little easier for us to imagine an offensive lineman gently cradling his newborn, or a well-trained Clydesdale stepping gently around a corral with a young novice rider clinging to his mane. There’s a note there of strength, rather than weakness. It’s not that the gentle man is incapable of asserting his power, but that he chooses to restrain himself to safeguard or support another.
If you continue reading the book of Matthew after the Beatitudes, you see the author frequently portraying Jesus as the demonstration of each of these blessed traits, often even using the same word.
Gentleness is no exception:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
— Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and earth. He holds the power of the earthquake and thunderstorm in his hands. He is the King of Kings who will come at the end of days to judge the earth and conquer his enemies.
And yet, he tells us that his heart is gentle and lowly.
Jesus has restrained his strength for the good of another. He is patient and tender toward his children. He recognizes our struggles without disappointment. He is with us in our failures without disgust. His meekness is not weakness, but a gentle lovingkindness on our behalf.
If we begin to see meekness through Jesus’ lens, we will also begin to see opportunities to emulate him. Meekness is not a lack of assertion, but assertion used to provide for the needy. Meekness is not a fear of speaking up, but a boldness to speak on behalf of the widow and the orphan. Meekness is not an avoidance of conflict, but a choice to fight for the sake of the powerless. Meekness is humbly seeking the glory of God and the good of others.
Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth, which can feel exceptionally false in our day and age, just as the idea of praising meekness at all feels farfetched in our culture. Look around you: it’s not the meek who are “winning.” Our culture fundamentally rewards arrogance, aggressiveness, and self-assertion.
But we must remember that godly inheritance is always a future promise. It’s not a gift given in the moment, but an intentional laying-aside for a time to come. And it’s coming is sure.
Our gentle and lowly Lord will come on the clouds to inherit the earth, and those who follow him in meekness will reign eternally with him.
May we spend our strength in a sacrifice of selflessness today.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
— Philippians 4:5 (NIV)