Paradox. Jesus was a master of paradoxes. He would take a known truth, turn it on its head and say something to the effect of, “Now that’s how you really ought to be living.” His provocative claims would frustrate any linear thinker because He saw life beyond conventional wisdom. How can a two-dimensional character ever understand a three-dimensional life? It was as if He knew another way of living life. But His mind-boggling, paradoxical “sayings” weren’t even the most impressive parts. He was actually living out the paradoxes. He supported His teachings with His life and because of it, He was able to silence His critics.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). This statement must have come as a great shock to His listeners. Because whether you live in the first century or the 21st century, and whether you belong to the Western world or the Eastern world, most would claim that it is not true. It sounds nice, but it would be a stretch to actually live like it is the truth. The way most live and pursue careers, if you are meek, you will only be taken advantage of, pushed down, or forgotten at best. Meekness is a great virtue to possess, but that is all that it will be to most people — a virtue, but not one necessary to be “successful” or to “inherit the earth.”
It was the same during Jesus’ time. The Gospel of Matthew was written primarily for the Jewish audience. The Jews lived with a great deal of angst because of their Roman oppressors. They had to submit to their authority and governance, and they paid taxes to Caesar. It really was not Yahweh’s chosen nation that they had in mind. So the angst came from a deep longing for a Messiah, a Jewish king, who would militarily deliver them from Roman oppression. They were waiting for a warrior-king who would rally the nation to fight and free themselves into victory. It was a robust vision of a new kingdom, and the Messiah would be a force to be reckoned with. That is until Jesus would say things like, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Talk about anticlimactic.
How does someone who is meek inherit the earth? I saw a glimpse of this a month ago while spending 11 days in India with the pastors of the persecuted church. We had a team of 27 from all over the United States (and one member from Mexico) with a variety of assigned tasks but one purpose — to make way for the kingdom of God to reign in India. Two thoughts come to mind as I think about the meek inheriting the earth from that trip:
Meekness is not weakness; it is strength under control.
As Kaleb Patterson discusses in this issue’s Discipleship section, the Greeks used the word “meek” for a wild animal that has been tamed. Think of a stallion that has been tamed to serve its master’s purpose. It takes a great deal of discipline for a wild animal to be tamed.
I had the great privilege to be able to preach multiple times on this trip. I saw it, initially, as a great honor. But as I got to know the attendees of the pastors and leaders conference and what it means for them to be a follower of Jesus Christ, I began to feel more humbled than honored.
After one session, I went down to the tent where these tribal pastors congregated to drink chai and have conversations. We would quickly make acquaintances with their broken English and my nonexistent Hindi. Soon I realized, I was in the presence of greatness. One pastor explained to me that he had his house burned down simply because he was a Christian pastor.
Another pastor shared that he became a Christian because his daughter had been in a coma for weeks. He would pray to the Hindu gods, offer sacrifices, seek medical advice and try all sorts of medicine. In fact, he himself was a witch doctor, but nothing he did would work. Meanwhile, his wife converted to Christianity and pleaded to bring her pastor to pray for their daughter. He begrudgingly obliged as he had exhausted all other options. His wife’s pastor came, laid hands on their daughter and prayed for healing. She instantly came out of her coma. He instantly became a follower of Christ. Since then, he has been beaten and had his life in danger more than a handful of times.
There were more stories I heard all night long like this. And despite the persecution, they do not retaliate but rather profess the good news of Jesus Christ all the more.
They are, indeed, the meek Jesus was talking about in this beatitude. There is nothing weak about them. Instead, all I sensed was courage, conviction and strength under control. They are beaten, imprisoned, and their houses and churches are burned down. But they do not retaliate evil with evil. Instead, the persecution they experience as followers of Christ only fuels the urgency to bring more to Christ. They will inherit the earth for the cause of Christ. They are not weak. They are some of the strongest people I am privileged to know.
The second thought that came to mind is that:
Meekness is knowing who you are in light of who God is.
Theologian Frederick Dale Bruner’s rendition of this verse is intriguing. He writes, “Blessings on the little people, because they will be granted the earth!” The meek are considered little in the eyes of the world: little impact, little outcome, little difference. In India, this is largely as a result of the caste one is born into. The higher the caste, the more you can do and become. The lower the caste, the less opportunities and impact you will have. One might argue that those on the margins will never make an impact in the epicenter. And that power flows from the center to the margins. Or does it? According to Jesus’ paradoxical beatitude, power actually travels from the meek. They are the epicenter and will inherit the earth.
This is because the little people know who they are, in light of who God is. While the world may rule them out, the little people know that they have an Advocate reminding them of their true identity. The meek understand their identity, that they are first and foremost God’s beloveds — sons and daughters of the Most High God. The meek do not have to prove themselves or earn a status. They inherit the earth, because it is an inheritance from the Father. A son or a daughter will never lose value to his or her father. No matter the decisions my children make in life, no matter the level of intellect or career path they choose, my children will never lose value in my eyes. It is the same way with God our Father. Our value always outweighs our condition.
On one afternoon in India, the people of a leper community joined us. They are outcasts living far beyond the margins. Their society has ruled them out and pronounced them as unworthy and unclean. They are the littlest of the little people, meekest of the meek. But that afternoon, God revealed to me that they too are the Bride of Christ and as Jesus promises in the grand finale of God’s Word, He is coming for them soon (Revelation 22). Their value outweighs their condition. The meek know who they are and what they are worth in light of who God is.
On the trip, I met another Indian pastor who epitomized meekness. He had been a pastor for many years, but what stood out about him was that he was born into the Brahmin caste. The Brahmins are the priestly caste of Hinduism responsible for sacred knowledge, and the Brahmin caste is the highest-ranking caste in India. It takes a lot of conviction to step down from that. Yet that is exactly what he did to become a follower of Christ. The Brahmin became an Untouchable. He went straight to the bottom. There’s your definition of meekness. This important person joined the little people. But he did not lose value as a person because he knew who he was — not based on what the Hindu caste system told him he was, but in light of who God is.
I have concluded something about meekness from my time in India. Meekness is not just a virtue or a personality — that just sounds way too passive and polite. Meekness is more. It is a decision. It is a constant inner battle of passions in which only the strong and the selfless can demonstrate that they can inherit the earth without destroying it with selfish ambition.
I spent many years in Southern California before moving to Washington state. For years, our family purchased the SoCal Select annual pass to Disneyland. We were told that it is “the happiest place on earth.” And we convinced ourselves that it was. But believe me, when you go week after week, year after year, you see the truth about that place. It is not at all the happiest place on earth. You are hot and sweaty. Your feet are throbbing. The crowd is overwhelming. The kids are crying. The parents are yelling, and at one point, I even think I heard the gnashing of teeth (it almost sounds like the place you don’t want to end up). If you examine carefully the next time you are there, you will probably agree that it is not what they say it is.
But I strangely found one of the happiest places on earth in a small campus called Immanuel University in India. There is a lot of singing and dancing — even in the face of persecution. One night, we were singing the words “happy, happy, happy Christmas” seemingly without end. My obtuse way of thinking reacted by saying, “First of all, it’s merry Christmas. Second, it’s the end of January; Christmas is over. Third, I can’t dance to this music” — although that was largely due to the fact that I can’t dance, period. And then it hit me. They know how the story ends. They know this third beatitude better than anyone – that they will inherit the earth. The dancing, the shouting, the laughing, the singing – it is because they know how the story ends despite where the story seems to be going. Jesus wins.
David Choi is the pastor of missions and care for Timberlake Church with campuses in Redmond, Issaquah, Duvall and Castle Rock, Washington.4