…for they shall inherit the earth.
“Meekness is an immovable state of soul which remains unaffected whether in evil report or in good report, in dishonour or in praise….it is a mark of extreme meekness, even in the presence of one’s offender, to be peacefully and lovingly disposed towards him in one’s heart.”
- John Climacus, as quoted by Metropolitan Alfeyev
Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones
Jesus Christ: His Life and Teaching, Vol.2 - The Sermon on the Mount, Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev
The world understands that the opposite of meek, as the world commonly understands the term, is necessary if one is to succeed: to “inherit the earth.” Strength, power, self-assurance, and aggressiveness. These are the characteristics of those who will inherit – at least this is how the world sees it.
DMLJ: Once more, then, we are reminded at the very beginning that the Christian is altogether different from the world. It is a difference in quality, an essential difference. He is a new man, a new creation….
And if we are not “altogether different” and a “new creation,” this speaks to us and where we stand in our Christian faith, not to the teaching of Jesus.
MHA: Jesus’ commandments can seem difficult to fulfill, but fulfilling them brings peace to the soul, because doing so frees the soul from the burden of earthly cares. The means of acquiring this inner peace is meekness and humility.
John Chrysostom paraphrases this as follows:
“…if thou duly perform His words, the burden will be light… But how are they duly performed? If thou art become lowly, and meek, and gentle.”
I am reminded of a Jordan Peterson story: he would ask a student if he would like to play a game. After an affirmative reply, Peterson would simply state: “You go first.” No discussion of rules, objectives, etc. No game board. Nothing like that. Of course, with this unlimited and absolute freedom, the student stood frozen, unable to do anything.
Fulfilling Jesus’s commandments frees us; doing this bring peace to our soul. This gives us freedom to now play the game.
Lloyd-Jones reminds that Matthew was writing primarily to the Jews, and the Jews had a different idea of the kingdom: materialistic, military, with a Messiah that would lead them to victory (not much has changed in this regard). Therefore Matthew, early in his gospel account, strives to disabuse the Jews of this notion.
DMLJ: Meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing itself in attitude and conduct with respect to others. … It is my attitude towards myself; and it is an expression of that in my relationship to others.
Metropolitan Alfeyev examines the word “meek,” and how it is used in the Septuagint to translate a whole range of Hebrew words (and then offers these in English): whole, perfect, in both a physical and religious sense; humble, stooping; destitute, poor, needy, uncomplaining, submissive. There is another Greek word also close in meaning that can be understood as calm or soft.
He also offers a few verses from Proverbs that contrast meekness with envy, wrath, or anger. Some other Old Testament passages about meekness are interpreted in the New Testament as foreshadowings of Jesus Christ. Christ, who is called or referred to as a lamb multiple times, offers a picture of meekness.
Metropolitan Alfeyev further offers several verses and passages from the Epistles that touch on this concept of meekness: “receive with meekness the engrafted word”; “show your works by good conduct with meekness and wisdom”; “the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit”; “the hope that is in you with meekness and fear”. He offers many others.
MHA: Judging by the large number of times meekness is mentioned, the apostles considered this quality to be an important part of Christian witness, both within the Christian community and toward outsiders.
Lloyd-Jones notes that the Beatitudes are becoming increasingly more difficult, with one naturally leading to the next. Our poor spirit leads to mourning as we become aware of our sin, which then leads to meekness. A man can never be meek without first passing through and accepting the first two Beatitudes.
DMLJ: The first Beatitude asks us to realize our own weakness and our own inability. …Anybody who feels that he, by his own strength, can accomplish all that [is found in the Ten Commandments, God’s moral law, and The Sermon on the Mount], has not started to be a Christian.
Understanding this, we see our sinfulness, our sinful nature – we mourn with this realization. Thus far, we are focused on ourselves. Now it gets even tougher: in the third Beatitude, we start to concern ourselves with others:
DMLJ: Let me put it like this. I can see my own utter nothingness and helplessness face-to-face with the demands of the gospel and the law of God.
I can face this and say such things about myself, but with this third Beatitude I must open myself up to hearing such things from others. I am finally able to admit to myself my condemnation – but now I must be able to receive such judgement from another. I must face other people, knowing that they will know my place. I am to be meek in the face of this.
DMLJ: It is to allow other people to put the searchlight upon me instead of my doing it myself.
I read this more as the test to prove meekness. When others see and note our failings, how do we react? What is our response? How are we feeling? What is our emotional reaction or state?
MHA: Along with humility and patience, meekness is one of the characteristic features of the new spiritual and moral image being created in the church community under the direct influence of the person of Jesus Christ.
A meek man is not proud of himself, he does not glory in himself. He finds nothing in his of which to boast. He does not demand for himself – he does not take all of his rights as claims on another. He is not even sensitive about himself; he is not always on the defensive. He doesn’t pity himself.
Instead, he comes to realize that no one can harm him – knowing he is fallen, he is not concerned about a further fall. He is not concerned about what men say about him; what worse can they say that has not already been exposed in the first two Beatitudes? He must come to leave everything in the hands of God – his rights, his cause, his future.
DMLJ: You cannot spend time with a verse like this without its humbling you. It is true Christianity; it is the thing for which we are called and for which we are meant.
What about inheriting the earth? Lloyd-Jones describes it this way: the man who is meek is already content – he has already inherited the earth, as there is nothing more that he desires and there is nothing that he lacks. Having nothing, he has everything.
Metropolitan Alfeyev offers that we should look for this meaning of inheriting the earth in the promise given to Abraham; as explained in Hebrews, Abraham was called to go to a place which he afterwards would receive as an inheritance. Per Metropolitan Alfeyev, this story of Abraham is…
…reinterpreted in Christianity as a type of the spiritual journey that has as its goal the new promised land – the kingdom of heaven.
And it is this kingdom of heaven which the meek will inherit.
It is a weak man that the world sees when told of the meek. Returning to the opening quote by John Climacus, do you see a weak man?
“…an immovable state of soul…”
There is no weakness in such a man, one who will stand immovably and with love regardless of the situation he faces.
DMLJ: Meekness is compatible with great strength. Meekness is compatible with great authority and power. … The meek man is one who may so believe in standing for the truth that he will die for it if necessary. The martyrs were meek, but they were never weak; strong men, yet meek men.
The meek man is the strongest and bravest man. Such a man truly will inherit the earth.