“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”
Three launchpads for meditation. The first explores the concept of meekness within the Biblical context. A key parallel passage to Matthew 5:5 is Psalm 37. In this Psalm, the godly are oppressed by the wicked. However, rather than retaliation, it is best to practice meekness by humbly resting in the Lord.
I encourage you to read the whole Psalm, but for brevity let’s focus on verses 7-11, which read: “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.”
This posture of meekness is also present in Jesus’ teachings. Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches meekness instead of retaliation. If someone is insulted by a slap to the check, rather than retaliation, Jesus calls his disciples to turn the other cheek. If a Roman soldier conscripts you to carry his equipment for a mile, rather than resisting the military occupation, carry the equipment for two miles.
And of course, Jesus not only taught meekness, he also lived it. For example, in the lead up to Jesus’ crucifixion, he never fights back. Although He is beaten down and bears the wickedness of all humanity, he trusts in the Father and is obedient to the point of death. So, in Matthew 5:5, the meek are those who patiently endure wrongdoings. Rather than retaliation, they rest in the reality of who God is.
The second launchpad for meditation considers meekness within the honor-shame cultural context. In this context, if someone does wrong to you, you lose honor because you have been shamed. To restore your honor, you must retaliate.
Consider a common type of ‘honor game’ in the cultural context of the Ancient Near East. In the public sphere, someone is called a fool. The insulting person sets himself up as superior by dishonoring his victim. If the victim does not retaliate by calling the other person even more of a fool, then the victim is viewed as shameful. The audience would dismiss the victim as a fool who cannot defend himself. In the cultural context, to fight back is honorable. To be meek would be viewed as being weak. Meekness was not a virtue; it was shameful.
But the beatitude in Matthew 5:5 claims that the meek are blessed or honored. How can this be?
So, although the meek are shamed by society for not avenging wrongdoing, God will honor the meek. Although it seems that the meek let others take everything from them (including their honor), God will honor the meek by restoring everything to them (including their honor). Indeed, the meek are paradoxically blessed because they will inherit the earth.
The third launchpad for meditation considers how the meek are blessed- by inheriting the earth. The blessing in this beatitude connects with the promised land theme traced throughout the Bible. Indeed, as we saw before in Psalm 37, it is the meek who will inherit the promised land.
To inherit the land is to return from ‘exile’. It is to go from being cut-off from God to being God’s people and experiencing blessings flowing from God.
While the kingdom of Israel had geographic boundaries, Jesus’ kingdom extends to the ends of the earth. So, with the ‘already but not yet’ kingdom of Jesus, the meek look ahead to future blessings. It’s the meek who are heirs of the New Earth- the heirs of an eternity spent with Jesus, in a world free from sin, sickness, and suffering. On the earth of this present age, the meek experience an exiled existence as they are shamed by society for not retaliating when wronged. But these exiles will one day inherit their true home- the New Earth where their shame will be replaced with honor as they rule and reign with Jesus for all of eternity.