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Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. — Matthew 5:5
A surrendered human will is the agency through which God’s power is released upon the earth… Only the meek, “the terrible meek,” the totally committed meek, are considered worthy of an inheritance in the new land, the kingdom of God on earth… Through them God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven; through them the kingdom of heaven comes to earth. –Clarence Jordan
This is one of the more confusing Beatitudes, because ‘meek’ has so many different meanings. The definitions in my dictionary include ‘patient and mild, not inclined to anger or resentment”, “spineless, spiritless”, and “kind”—although the last meaning is described as obsolete. This confusion isn’t merely academic. Sometimes Christians are tempted to a destructive form of meekness: we diminish Christianity into a religion of niceness and uncomplaining conformity. This doesn’t provide the clarity and courage required for Kingdom living. Sometimes we neglect constructive meekness: we try to impose our understanding of Christianity on other Christians and on the rest of the world, or we try to use our faith to manipulate God into giving us money, power and whatever else we want. This doesn’t help to incarnate God’s Kingdom either.
I recently learned that the Greek word usually translated as ‘meek’ has many meanings. Among others, it was commonly used of a horse that had been tamed and trained; it suggested strength curbed and disciplined. This meaning reminds me of the difficult balances involved in stepping out of the consumer culture and trying to live as a Kingdom citizen. I need to be strong; I need not to depend on my creature comforts or on the approval of my neighbors; I need to be able to persevere and to endure. But I need to be disciplined as well. If I deviate from what others expect of me I must do it, not for the sake of asserting myself, not because I think I can keep myself safe or pure in isolation from my neighbors, but because I have been called into another way by God. Following that call requires all the strength and all the humility I can muster. It leaves no room for resentment, and it naturally leads to compassion and to kindness for others who are also struggling to bear the easy yoke.