David A. Davis
February 16, 2020
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“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” A few translations opt for “Blessed are the gentle”. One translation I came upon this week had “Blessed are the humble.” The word for meek in Greek can be translated “humble, gentle, considerate”. It is here in the gospel of Matthew, the 11th chapter, that Jesus offers the words never t be forgotten, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (11:28-30) Gentle and humble in heart. Gentle, the same word in Greek for meek. Matthew’s record of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, his telling of the Palm Sunday scene is the only gospel that includes this quote from the Hebrew prophet Zechariah: “Tell the daughter of Zion, look, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a cold, the foal of donkey”. (Zech 9:9) Humble. In Matthew that’s the same word as meek.
Meek. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The prophet Isaiah tucks a reference to the meek into a messianic passage most heard in Advent. “A shoot shall come out form the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see or decide by what his eyes hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” (Is 11:1-4) Decide with equity for the meek of the earth. Elsewhere, Isaiah again offers a promise to the meek. “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the neediest peoples shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” (29:19)
The psalmist sings the same tune of promise as well. “O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your hear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more” (Ps 10:17-18) In Matthew 5:5, Jesus pretty much quotes Psalm 37: “But the meek will inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Ps 37:11) When it comes to the teaching of Jesus and the broader biblical tradition, one can not really count how many times, how many ways, how many variations there are of the familiar tune from Jesus, “All who exalt themselves will be humble and all who humble themselves will be exalted”. (Mt 23:12) “Blessed are the meek.”
Sitting this week with this second beatitude, I have been struck by how many scholars, preachers, and devotional writers spend so much of their writing space trying to explain the meek, what it means to be meek, who are the meek, where are the meek. There are also a whole lot of words on the page intended to address what meek does not mean. As in, it is not timidity. It is not passivity. It is not weakness. Meek. My sermon title for this morning, “The Invisible”, certainly indicated that I intended on pointing to the meek today. But I have come think that we all know! We already know who the meek are, where the meek are. When it comes to the gospel and teaching of Jesus and the world we live in, it is as clear as a hand in front of your face. The meek. Yep. We know the meek. We see the meek. You and I can ignore the meek just like everyone else. But Jesus didn’t, Jesus couldn’t, Jesus doesn’t. And in all of scripture, are there many who receive the abundance of God’s promise more than the meek? “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Fewer people, a lot fewer people write about, preach about, comment on “they shall inherit the earth.” As the psalmist put it, “the meek will inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” Or as Isaiah puts it, “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the neediest peoples shall exult in the Holy One of Israel.” Again, the psalmist: “O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart”. Strengthening heart. Obtaining fresh joy. Inheriting the earth. All promised to the meek. It is a bold, bodacious, and bald promise. Like the promise from God to Abram. “Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land that you see I give to you and your offspring forever.” (Gen 13:14-15) Like God’s promise to Moses at the top of Mount Nebo. “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (Deut 34:4) Like the promise of Jesus in Matthew 25 to those at his right hand who cared for hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, those who cared for….the meek. “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Mt 25:34) Like the promise of the Risen Jesus to the women at the empty tomb that first Easter morning who were clinging to his feet. “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, there they will see me.” (Mt 28:10)
“They shall inherit the earth”. A bold, bodacious, and bald promise that in the greater schemes, doesn’t get talked about all that much. I can’t decide whether that relative silence on the second half of the third beatitude is because preachers like me don’t know what to do with or really just don’t believe it. It is bold, bodacious and bald but is it true? The meek certainly are not inheriting much these days. At least not yet. One sure fire way to know that the earth is not what the Lord intends, or that kingdom on earth is not as it is in heaven, or as Jesus says in Matthew 24 “the end is not yet”, one sure way to know is to read “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” a few times and then go read the newspaper, or take a walk down the street, or have lunch in a school cafeteria. Say “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” over and over to yourself and then start a conversation at work about affordable housing or sanctuary cities or prison reform or the 800,000 Syrian refugees fleeing a war torn land with nowhere to go, no country to let them in, including ours. Let “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” sink deep into your heart and then ask God to help you dare to believe it.
My wife Cathy and I went to McCarter Theater this week to hear a concert by Gregory Porter. He is a Grammy award winning jazz vocalist. Over at McCarter theater this week, I heard a sermon. I heard a few of them actually as I listened to Gregory Porter perform the songs he wrote. One of his most well-known songs is called “Take Me to the Alley”. I first heard the song here in the sanctuary when my friend Toby Sanders sang it at Dan Darrow’s ordination a year or so ago. The song is pretty brief, the lyrics are few. But they are powerful.
Well, they guild their houses in preparation for the King
And they line the sidewalks
With every sort of shiny thing
They will be surprised
When they hear him say
Take me to the alley
Take me to the afflicted ones
Take me to the lonely ones
That somehow lost their way
Let them hear me say
I am your friend
Come to my table
Rest here in my garden
You will have a pardon
Listen to this clip now with ears to hear:
Take me to the alley, to the afflicted, to the lonely and let them hear me say I am your friend, come, rest, thrive in my abundant grace. As for all the rest, all the rest in the world, even those who follow me and take my name, won’t they be surprised when they hear me say, take me to the alley.
The opening words of Psalm 24, the first scripture lesson read this morning: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” You will remember that the King James is “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof”. The psalm writer intends the reference of “fullness” to allude to all that the earth contains. The breadth of creation and all who live it. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” But I have always taken the King James to mean something a bit more. Something more like: The earth is the Lord’s. The earth and all of God’s fullness. The earth belongs to God and the fullness thereof is the vast expanse of God’s love in Jesus Christ that surpasses all knowledge. The earth is the Lord’s alongside what the Apostle Paul calls “the breath and length, and height, and depth”. The earth is the Lord’s. The earth belongs to God and no one else. Though creation groans and God must weep at humanity’s stewardship of what belongs to God. The earth belongs to God. And the fullness thereof belongs to God. The fullness of God. Our salvation by the mercy, grace, and love of God. Both the earth and our salvation come from and belong to God.
The meek shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. The meek shall inherit all that belongs to the Lord. The earth and God’s fullness thereof. Yes, a bold, bodacious, bald promise that the very inheritance of God is for the meek we know. The meek everyone knows. The meek we see. The meek everyone sees. The meek that the world would rather ignore. But Jesus didn’t. Jesus doesn’t. Jesus couldn’t. And don’t let any preacher, any scholar, any commentator, any teacher, any elected official, and relative, or any co-worker ever convince you otherwise. Never, ever forget the promise that rests at the very foundation of the teaching of Jesus and the gospel itself. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Won’t they be surprised? Won’t they be surprised? Or course they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t be surprise if they paid any attention him at all, to Jesus. But they are. We are. Everyone will be surprised.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”