Every year at the 4th of July, I think about Independence Day. I don’t mean the holiday; I mean the larger-than-life Will Smith movie where a handful of Earth’s pilots and misfits fight off an alien invasion. They are up against impossible odds but they must prevail: the future of Earth is at stake!
In our Beatitude today, Jesus says that the meek will inherit the earth. The future of the world isn’t in the hands of the proud, the brave, or the rich in Jesus’ teaching, but in the hands of the meek.
So what in the world does it mean to be meek?
Adam Hamilton, Church of the Resurrection’s pastor, used this example from a parishioner once to explain meekness. “My mom isn’t a follower of Christ and looks nothing like the beatitudes. Fortunate are poor in spirit? My mother knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. She has no hope beyond having more right now. Fortunate are the meek? My mother treats everything like a battle with winners and losers. She seeks to be a winner which looks nothing like the gentleness you spoke of in meekness. Fortunate are the merciful? My mother has a condescending personality and keeps score. She seeks revenge, not justice. She is poisoned by hate. It’s all about her. My mother is suffering in a spiritless hopeless world. She has no hope, only the cross of cynicism to bear. You get the picture. Her life is the opposite of the beatitudes. It is misery.”
Another story I read once shared about a truly obnoxious woman who decided that she was going on a cruise, but none of her friends would go along. Behind her back, they said it was her “me first” attitude. When she arrived at the ticket counter, she barged past the people standing there, whipping her suitcase around, yelling “Me first!” When it was time for dinner the first night, she elbowed others out of the way, shouting “Me first!”
But on the second day, the cruise ran aground between destinations, and the captain of the cruise informed the passengers that they would be ferried to shore or that they’d have to swim. He started to load the elderly and the children on, but the woman practically knocked him overboard, stuffing her suitcase on the lifeboat, grumpily muttering, “Me first!”
After three days, the passengers were shellshocked and scared they’d never be rescued, but rustling in the jungle nearby revealed a band of natives, who gestured at the shipwrecked crew with their spears and motioned that they should follow. The woman screamed, “Me first!” and charged after them.
Back at their village, the natives warmed large pots of water, making feeding gestures toward the passengers and the pots. Soon, they motioned the passengers toward the pots, and our favorite shipwreck-ee screamed, “Me first!”
And the cannibals threw her into the pot.
We know what meekness is by its absence, but why do we struggle to wrap our minds around it?
One day in a theology class at SMU, the theological giant Dallas Willard found himself belittled and heckled by one of his students in a lecture hall in front of several hundred students. After the young man had gone on about the shortcomings of both Willard and the university, Willard calmly raised his hand and spoke to the class. “I think it’s time for us to call it a day. See you all tomorrow.”
An hour later, several faculty members found Willard working quietly in his office. They burst in, having heard the story of the student and Willard’s non-response from other students. “We heard what happened to you earlier,” one of them exclaimed. “Why didn’t you shut that kid down?”
“I’m practicing not having the last word,” Willard responded, with a smile on his face.
That was simply all he had to say.
Ah, meekness. I would like to be meek – it’s certainly a character trait that would improve my blood pressure! But while I have practiced Willard’s ‘not having the last word’ … I never make it longer than twenty-four hours!
What is it about meekness that is so hard?
In Galatians, Paul lists meekness as one of the Fruits of the Spirit, along with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. While the first is generally considered a necessary mark of a Christian, we struggle to incorporate those other attributes into our relationships even with people we love or like.
But Paul (and Jesus) tell us over and over again to pursue life humbly – to serve others and to elevate them higher than we see ourselves.
Paul expands on Jesus’ teaching and example, but how many times do we stop and consider Jesus’ humility?
Jesus washed his disciples feet, an action reserved for slaves or servants, not for the leader of a group.
Jesus ate with and cared for people who others considered unlovable, too sinful, or beneath them.
Jesus is God of the universe and he was born to a homeless couple, in a stable, without a bed to sleep in.
Jesus told us that the meek would inherit the earth – and then he went out and lived out the example of meekness in his own life. Jesus called us to be kind and humble. Jesus embodied meekness – but anyone who would mistake Jesus for weak, well, they miss the courage of going to the cross, don’t they?
Paul himself exhibited this blend of courage and meekness. He was the apostle who boldly proclaimed the gospel of Jesus to people who had never heard it, but who allowed himself to be arrested unjustly so that he could share his testimony with the highest levels of government.
Paul’s words in Galatians demand we consider what it means to follow Jesus in our own lives, whether it’s about brandishing a weapon, driving a car, or considering the words we use. In fact, his words on meekness in Galatians 5 seem directly aimed at the church in verses 14-15: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
Consider that for a minute: Paul wrote a letter to a church he founded and included the line, ‘if you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.’ This is true, right? If two people attack each other, it falls into Confucius’ reminder that if you embark on a journey for revenge, to first prepare two graves. When we quarrel and fight – we lose something of ourselves.
So, Jesus proposes that the meek will inherit the earth.
Paul tells us to love our neighbor – and to proceed with humility and kindness toward each other even in the church.
We need to be aware of Jesus’ teaching – but our awareness of Paul’s focus on the church could change our community. We’re called to humbly serve each other because it is what the kingdom of God is about and it allows us to show the best of who we are to the community.
When we embrace meekness, we realize that our worth is in our being loved by God – not in some earthly presentation of power or pride. When we embrace meekness, we recognize that our personal integrity can’t be taken away by anyone – or anything – and we don’t need to embrace bravado to convince anyone else. When we embrace meekness, we recognize that God’s pattern for us is even better than anything we could come up with for ourselves.
This is counterintuitive to everything that the world tells us. Be bold. Take what you want. When someone disagrees with you, shout them down.
Meekness …. doesn’t make any sense in that context.
Unfortunately, when we recognize everything Paul is saying about the church, he’s saying we have to practice meekness — humility — even inside of the church.
Are there things you can recognize today are keeping our church from being the best it can be? Is there a ‘sharp edge’ that you can help soften? Is there a subgroup of people inside our church that could use your kindness?
Who do you need to make amends with? What attitudes need to change for you to be meeker, in and out of church? What difference would it make if you didn’t have to have the last word?
If we could get to the point where we practice meekness inside of church, imagine how much it would impact our lives outside of church – and who might come here.
I learned of a church several years ago that had a problem. It wasn’t that…
…there wasn’t enough money.
….there weren’t good people there.
….the programs weren’t right.
But the church leadership soon realized that the people who did come weren’t happy with things that happened there, and they told all of their friends about how unhappy they were. The church leadership had talked about inviting new people – and people actively invited their friends. The people at the church thought they were doing a great job of inviting everyone they knew – but those people wouldn’t come – because they knew their churchgoing friends weren’t happy there.
The people at that church just weren’t getting along – just like Paul’s church plant in Galatia.
I wonder what a difference it would have made if the people of that church had embraced meekness. I wonder what my life would look like if I truly tackled meekness. I wonder what our church would look like if we practiced humility in a completely all-inclusive way.
I don’t want to oversell meekness here, but seriously, the fate of the Earth is at stake. Go forth to inherit the Earth.