We’ve heard the stories of those people the biblical writers considered meek. They weren’t exactly the kind of folks we associate with that word, were they?
The book of Numbers calls Moses the meekest man on earth. Moses. A man who walks up to the one of the most powerful rulers in the world at the time and tells him “let my people go!—all of them.”
Meaning, let go of the slave people that have built your cities and your wealth.
Moses had no armies to back him. Nothing but a staff, and utter trust in the God who sent him. Does that sounds like the meekest man on earth?
Then there’s the shepherd boy David, least in his clan, standing up to the mightiest of the Philistine warriors, refusing armor or sword, with only a sling shot and, of course, utter trust in the God who sent him.
And what about Mary, a teenage girl, a nobody, chosen to bear in her womb the Messiah? Chosen to bring into this world the one who will deliver not just Israel, but all the oppressed people of this world.
We portray her and the child she bore as sweet, as innocent and as harmless as can be. But as we heard in the Gospel reading today, while visiting her cousin Elizabeth, the child still early in her womb, Mary sings a song about her child overturning the tables of those who hold power and abuse the poor. From the beginning, in other words, Mary knows she’s giving birth to a movement – no, not just a movement, but the movement – to God breaking in and turning the social order upside down.
Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those whose trust in God is so great that they stand up to the powers and principalities of this world, but who do so without mirroring the world’s methods of violence and intimidation.
Blessed are those who know the divine lover – who place their lives and hopes in one who loves humankind and all creation. Blessed are those who know in their bones that nothing in all creation – including the power of death – can separate them and the creation itself, from this loving God.
And so they stand.
And yes, blessed are they when they do so. Blessed when they link arm in arm in the face of dogs and hoses and horses in Montgomery or Birmingham.
Blessed are they when they sit in the front of the bus and say no to the ignorance and indignity of racism.
Blessed are they when they are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and fight back, but do so not with guns and clubs, but with dignity and love.
Blessed are the meek. A little man from India nonviolently faces down the British Empire, ending British rule over his nation.
Blessed are the meek, who against all odds end apartheid in South Africa.
Blessed are the meek of this world, says Jesus, for they shall inherit the earth.
Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, civil rights champions and soldiers, Mandela and a host of South African martyrs – people throughout history with the courage, trust and dignity to stand, witness and work for a better world – and yes, we understand calling them blessed don’t we? I know I do.
But what do we do with that next line? “For they shall inherit the earth?”
Isn’t that the part of this blessing that gives us pause if we dare to pause long enough to think about it?
Blessed with integrity sure, blessed with lives that are worth the living of the years, of course! But the land? The whole earth?
Even when we acknowledge that India was freed from British rule and that South Africa broke the awful chains of apartheid or that African Americans got their voting rights, we are and should be skeptical about just how often this seems to happen in history and just how much of the earth the meek have really inherited.
But here they are – these words of Jesus, the child king born among the poor, the Messiah we call God with us in the flesh—a man more meek even than Moses, standing in the courts of power, looking into the eyes of Caesar’s man Pilot, knowing full well that he was facing an execution meant to be cruel and unusual punishment, not defending himself but making it clear that it is Pilot and those who set this mess in motion that are in need of prayer, not him.
Blessed are the meek, says this suffering servant – for they shall inherit the earth.
And if we’re paying any attention at all, we gasp.
We gasp because they shall inherit the earth are Jesus’ words—not mine, not yours. Because they’re his we listen. You see, this isn’t wisdom literature. It isn’t one of Solomon’s proverbs. This is an eschatological promise being spoken by the incarnate one who gets crucified and is resurrected.
And because he’s the one who shatters the bonds of death, these words take on a meaning mere reason can hardly contain.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” Jesus says.
Which is something like, “I’ve been to the mountaintop and seen the Promised Land, and while I may not get there with you, I can tell you that we as a people will get there.”
The promise is spoken and, yes, at times we get a full-fledged glimpse of it in history, but most of the time we live with something far less don’t we?
The promise is spoken, and make no mistake. It calls for a trust that seems utterly foolish to the world. But for those who’ve been apprehended by this Christ of God and the Holiest of Spirits—who by grace can see with eyes both within and beyond what we call history—the arc of history really is long.
These are men and women who dare to believe that history is coming out of the promised future; that in the end it cannot help but bend toward justice; that the Lazaruses of this world will feast with Abraham, and not in some heavenly by and by but in the new earth that accompanies the new heavens God has in store for the new creation.
Blessed are the meek, Jesus says to us and to history. It does not and will not belong to the corporate powers who neither honor the poor nor care for the earth.
Blessed are the meek. As crazy, even impossible as it sounds, the earth is and the earth will be theirs.
Jesus speaks these words. And because he does we listen. And for those who bear his name, the real question at the end of all our listening is whether we will join this march of meekness in the world.
Will we find the courage – the faith – the trust – to say yes to God, without reserve?
When called on to sit or stand or kneel—yes, kneel—or speak, will we do so?
And will we do so not out of mere stubbornness but with a love so deeply embedded within us that it can’t help but transcend and transform and, as our brothers and sisters sang, overcome?
When all is said and done, each of us is invited to join this march. You and I are asked to join God’s other witnesses and forerunners for a justice that will roll down like the waters and a righteousness that is and will be an ever flowing stream in and for history.
And if we do join that march – if we dare – what a blessing it will be to join Moses and David, Mary and Elizabeth, Gandhi, King, Rosa, Fanny Lou Hamer, Mary and Gordon Cosby, Celeste Wray, Bob Hindman, Russell Doss and a host – God knows, a host—of other witnesses, martyrs and joyful signs of the Promised Reign of God on earth, yes on earth, as in heaven.