‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’Matthew 5:5
We do not think of meekness as a generally praiseworthy character attribute. To be meek, in our minds, is to be small, retiring, and insignificant. The dictionary even defines meekness as a state of being ‘quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on’—all words that culminate in a rather pejorative conclusion: ‘submissive.’ Meekness, in other words, is synonymous with weakness. Is this a precondition for inheriting the earth?
This perception of meekness as weakness has not been helped by the lyrics of a hymn such as ‘Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild,’ whose airy, gentle tones and lilting melody mimic, and reinforce, our perceptions of weakness. To be meek like Jesus means, essentially, to be a pushover.
(One wonders how this image is meant to square with Jesus crafting a whip and overturning tables in the Temple courts…)
These understandings of meekness are accurate enough insofar as they recognize that meekness has to do with a certain relationship to power. But it is not the relationship one expects.
We get a clue into what Jesus means when we consider more closely the promise given to the meek—that they shall inherit the earth. We can examine this inheritance more closely by asking a question—how is it that the world seeks to inherit the earth? Why, is it not by means of the exercise of power? Is it not in the accumulation of money, or fame? Is it not through economics, and politics, and armies marching across continents? When the world attempts to seize an inheritance for itself, it does so by means of unbridled displays of power.
In other words, the world says that we inherit the earthy by seizing it. If you want something, buy it. If you don’t have the money, find it. If you can’t find it legally, take it. Express dominion. Kill. Enslave. Win at any cost.
But Jesus has a different plan for humanity. Instead of inheriting the earth through use of force, we who follow Jesus will inherit the earth through surrender. A critical clue to this is found in Psalm 2, a passage that significantly influences this section of Matthew’s gospel. Psalm 2:7-8 reads as follows, ‘I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, “You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.”’ Look closely—how does the Son inherit the nations? Is it by force, by craft, or by financial weight? Is it through influence, politics, or back-room deals? No, the Son inherits the earth by asking the Father. And therein lies the heart of meekness.
Meekness is not weakness. Meekness is not a Christian disposition of quietude and gentleness that renders you an attractive doormat for others. No, to be meek means to have a certain relationship to power; it means to possess power, but to surrender that power to the uses determined by God. Meekness, in other words, is power under the direct guidance of God. The meek rely on God’s power, and not their own.
Consider again the person of Jesus—this time, remember him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane: ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will’ (Matt 26:39). This is the prayer of meekness; that Christ, who had power to summon legions of angels, who had power with a word to rescue himself from others, instead surrendered his will to the Father’s. Jesus was not in this moment weak; he was surrendered to the Father. And because of that surrender, he inherits the earth. Christians who strive to imitate Christ’s relationship to power are promised to inherit it alongside him.
How do we go about this? What does it mean to change our relationship to power? The key practice is prayer. In prayer, the Christian surrenders control of his or her life to God Almighty—we ask for help, we ask for God’s intervention. Meekness is a precondition for experiencing God move in prayer, for prayer always seeks the power of the Almighty. We come to prayer when our power has failed.
The posture of the meek is kneeling—not a subservient kneeling, nor a pushover kneeling; the Christian who kneels is declaring with his or her body that God is the one true power, that no activity apart from His power will succeed, that by placing myself in a position of surrender I am aligning myself—and whatever power I possess—to the Kingdom of God and of His Christ.
As I’ve said, with each beatitude there is an attitude, a promise, and an invasion. The attitude of meekness is a disposition that relies on God’s power, one that spurns our own. It is a disposition that recognizes that no earthly use of power can ultimately succeed; that all inheritances won by power will be fleeting. Instead, in meekness we will declare that we are God’s servants, and with Christ we pray, ‘Not my will, but Yours be done.’
The promise of the beatitude is that by aligning ourselves with Christ in this way, and setting ourselves against the world’s idea of power, we position ourselves to inherit the earth. In meekness we become co-inheritors with Christ, who will one day overturn all powers that are not his own.
And when we engage this attitude, God invades—His power meets us in our need, He shows Himself sufficient. Perhaps no place in your life will become so thin with the entrance of God’s power in this world than when you kneel to surrender yourself to Him in prayer. When we withdraw our paltry attempts at power, God is given the space to act as only He can act. If you want to see God’s power, you’ve got to let go of your own.
Set aside a time to kneel for prayer. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. Set a designated amount of time for prayer (five or ten minutes). Then kneel in bodily surrender to God. Be conscious, as you pray, that you are by means of your body attempting to modify your attitude to power. (NB: Some people may have physical difficulties with kneeling. If this is the case, you could sit or stand with your palms raised in a similar act of surrender.)