Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
This has never been my favorite verse. When I first came to Christianity (the fundamentalist flavor), I was taught that this means to be quiet and submissive, and to acquiesce to earthly (male) authority. <snort> Yeah, that’s going to happen.
Actually, I tried. I really did. I tried for years to be a quiet and gentle person. I still vividly remember the day when, sitting in my living room reading the Bible, I realized that after 20 years on this self-improvement course, I was further from being a meek person than when I’d began. I started sobbing. My (late) husband, Lee, came into the room, knelt down beside me, and asked what was wrong. Between my sobs, I explained.
He looked puzzled. “But,” he said, “I married you because you were strong and outspoken. I like that about you. I wouldn’t want a meek wife – that wouldn’t even be interesting.”
Mind. Blown. Enlightenment!
Still, I approached this verse today with a bit of trepidation. I needn’t have worried. It turns out, the word translated ‘meek’ or ‘humble’ is ‘praeis’, which is a word applied to a horse that has been broken-in. According to one source, armies used to go into the hills and get wild horses. These would be trained for several months. Some were unbreakable, and these were returned to the wild. Others were used as pack horses. Some were ridden in normal circumstances. But a very few – those who were smart, responsive, calm in chaos – those became war horses. These praeis were strong, determined, powerful – but they trusted and obeyed their rider in all circumstances.
Praeis, then, means self-control and discipline, listening to the Holy Spirit’s whispers and following in trust, whilst retaining one’s determination and strength. I’m struck by the notion that it’s a very Buddhist concept. I keep noticing that Jesus seems to be familiar with Buddhist tenets, and to be interweaving them into his teaching.
‘Inherit the earth’ is a phrase is used many times in the Old Testament, and almost without exception, it refers specifically to the geographic area that God promised to Israel. The word ‘earth’ means the ground, not the planet.
However. Being that Jesus is Jesus, I suspect he’s taking a well known phrase and giving it a twist. (Especially since he later tells the people not to be attached to things of the earth.) So what does he mean here?
I think he’s referring to the kingdom of heaven that he references in verse 1. In the Beatitudes, he’s not just alliteratively stringing together sentences, he’s building a thought. He’s showing people how to create this kingdom of God on earth. He’s saying that
those who as a people show discipline, self-control, strength and determination will bring about a land filled with love, joy, and peace.
This is a very different concept from what I was first taught. But it’s far more in line with the Jesus that I’m beginning to understand as a revolutionary. He wasn’t telling the people to quietly submit – he was telling them to band together, to be disciplined and strong, to resist the corruption rampant in their land (and dare I say, their government), and to create a new kingdom where justice and mercy reigned.
And he’s telling us the same.
The Jewish leaders were right to be worried about him.