Jesus is preaching the “Sermon on the Mount” and a huge crowd is gathering. The crowd is comprised of a mixed multitude. A mishmash of all kinds of people. For example, from Jerusalem/Judea there are the very orthodox Jews with their intense interest in the Law and in the various dietary and ceremonial laws. They are strongly passionate about all things religious.
But there are also the Galileean Jews, for whom synagogue is an important part of their life, but they aren’t religiously compulsive about it. These folks are primarily fishermen, shepherds, and farmers. They have a whole lot of things to keep them busy. And so synagogue is a very formative part of their life, but they’re not obsessive about it.
Then there is the crowd who always seemed to be around Jesus. Sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes. People who had completely abandoned the religious life. They had just given up on religion. They wanted nothing more to do with it. It hadn’t worked out for them. It wasn’t cut out for them. And yet, somehow they’re attracted to Jesus too.
Interestingly, one of the places this crowd comes from (as we’re told in chapter 4) is the Decapolis. It’s an area of ten cities east of the Jordan. And it’s a Greek area settled by Alexander the Great many centuries earlier. And so the Greeks are there with their art and their philosophy and their learning. They’re in the crowd.
And then of course, there are the Roman soldiers who were ever-present as the dominating, occupying military force from the superpower of the age, the Roman Empire.
So you have the hyper-religious Jews, the moderately religious, the irreligious, the sophisticated Greeks, and the arrogant Romans with their military might. They’re all there. They represent the whole spectrum of humanity. Because the sermon that Jesus gives on the Mount is for the whole world. He is declaring the new way, the alternative way that leads to kingdom life.
The 3rd beatitude.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)
Talk about counter-intuitive. I can just picture the Roman soldiers who are standing out in the crowd that day, smirking at one another. The Romans are not as sophisticated as the Greeks. The Greeks have their poets and their art. They’re sophisticated. They’re Ivy League.
But the real winners in the game are the Romans. Because they’ve conquered the world. They didn’t inherit the earth. They just took it.
At this time the Roman Empire stretched from England to India. Basically the entire known world. The Romans ruled the roost. And they didn’t get it by being meek either. They got it from being forceful, aggressive, powerful, and more organized than anybody else. They understood how to build roads, create a common currency, operate a systematic government, and most of all, how to build a really huge army.
The Romans would show up on the doorstep of your people, your country, your nation, your culture which had been living in a certain way for thousands of years. They’d say, “Hello, we’re the Romans, and we’re here to take you over. And you will now follow our laws, you will salute our emperor, and most importantly, you will pay the taxes.” And if you said no, then they would slaughter you.
And that’s how Caesar built his empire from England to India. And everybody knew, that’s just the way it goes. That’s how empires are built. They didn’t inherit anything. They took it. They seized it. They made it their own.
And yet, here is Jesus saying, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” It’s controversial. It’s counter-intuitive. Easy to dismiss.
What do we do with that? Now, if you’re a follower of Jesus, right from the get-go you’re obligated to believe it because Jesus said it. After all, you do call him Lord.
But it doesn’t make sense. To the casual observer, it sure looks like the winners and the go-getters, the movers and shakers, and the folks who are large-and-in-charge get the world. And the meek get what’s left over, which isn’t much. Because the earth is taken by force. It’s seized by the strong. It’s gobbled up by the greedy and the violent.
But Jesus uses an interesting word. “Inherit.” The meek shall inherit the earth.
“Inherit” is a word of relationship. It’s a word of family. It’s a word of grace. If you inherit wealth from your father, it’s wealth that you didn’t earn. You receive it just because you’re lucky enough to be his child. And Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Here’s another way of saying it:
“Blessed are the quiet and content, the humble and unassuming, the gentle and trusting who are not grasping and clutching, for God shall personally guarantee their share when heaven and earth become one.” – Brian Zahnd
See this is a totally different arrangement from the world of Caesar. The Caesar way is where the rich, the powerful, the mighty, the beautiful, and the shrewd get what they want because they seize it. And they get the biggest piece of the pie.
But Jesus says, “No, that’s not my way.” The way of Jesus is the way of meekness. But we don’t like the word meek. After all, it rhymes with “weak.” And the poets and hymn-writers make it worse because they like the alliteration.
“Meek and mild.”
Nobody wants to be “mild.” Mild salsa. What’s the point? There’s another name for mild salsa. It’s called ketchup. If I want ketchup, I’ll get ketchup. But if I want salsa, I want a kick to it. Mild is…bleh.
And that’s what we think “meek” is. We think “meek” is mild salsa.
But that’s not at all what “meek” means. The Greek word for “meek” used in Matthew 5:5 is the word “praus.”
Centuries before the Sermon on the Mount, when the Greek language was developing, up in the highlands of Greece there were wild horses. And sometimes people would go up and capture some of these wild horses. And if they could take one of these wild stallions with all of its strength and capacity, and tame it so that it could carry a rider, or so that a child could feed it an apple out of its hand, you would say that that horse is “praus.”
Meek. Not weak. It still has all of the strength and capacity it’s ever had. It has all of the swiftness and courage it’s ever had. It still has the wildness of the mountains in its blood. But it’s strength under control. It can carry a rider. It can eat an apple out of the hand of a child. It’s “praus.” Not weak.
That word “praus” is only used 3 times in the New Testament. Most significantly, it is used in the description of when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem as a conquering king on Palm Sunday. Here’s what it says:
“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King comes to you meek [“praus”] and riding on a donkey…” (Matthew 21:5a)
Now ordinarily when a conquering king would come into Rome he wouldn’t be riding a donkey. He’d be riding a horse. A donkey is a farm animal, not a war animal. Here’s what the original prophecy said:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-11)
Don’t miss this. This is absolutely a deliberate contrast with the way of Pharoah. And the way of Caesar. Caesar and his system crucified Jesus, simply because the Empire didn’t tolerate other people claiming to be kings. So they nailed him to a cross. That’s what they did to all of their enemies (real or perceived) that got in the way of their aggressive, greedy, violent conquest.
And Caesar would say, “You know, that’s awful nice that Jesus can talk like that, but we know how the real world works, don’t we?”
Do we? Because here we are in 2018. Where’s that Roman Empire today? It’s in the history books. It’s gone. It’s been gone for over 1,600 years.
Yes, the Roman Empire crucified that meek one. He was going to be a king a different way. The way of gentleness. The way of nonviolence. The way of peace. And they nailed him to a cross.
But 2,000 years later, on every Sunday, no less than a BILLION people gather in the name of Jesus Christ all around the globe in every nation. Some in great, vast multitudes. Some hiding in secret in persecuted countries. But in every nation over a billion people gather on a weekly basis to confess that Jesus is Lord and the true King of the world. That’s an empire that reaches from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth!
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
(The painting is “Meekness” by Eustache Le Sueur.)
NOTE: This post is part of a blog series on the Beatitudes. Here are the links to the previous posts:
Beatitude #1: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Beatitude #2: Blessed are Those who Mourn