I was asked after yesterday’s “Beatitudes” sermon about the translation “meek” in Matthew 5:5.

I reflected on this third Beatitude in Christ Wisdom in 2004 saying:

christ-wisdomBeatitude number three is enormously challenging:

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

[nb: the Greek word is prä-ü’s. It appears only three times in the New Testament: here where NRSV translates it as “meek”; in Matthew 21:5 where the NRSV translates it as “humble”; and in I Peter 3:4 where, just to cover all its bases, the NRSV translates prä-ü’s using the English word “gentle”. I checked 26 English translations of Matthew 5:5 – 14 translate prä-ü’s as “meek,” 8 use the English word “humble” and 4 use “gentle”. Reflecting on this verse in 2004, I chose “gentle” and went on to say]:

We probably fail to value gentleness because we fail to understand its true nature. Few of us would associate gentleness with the promise Jesus attaches to it in the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the gentle, for they will inherit (or take possession of) the earth.

Not many of us would think that gentle people are the ones most likely to take possession of the earth. Our usual model of leadership is based on a take-charge vision. We want leaders who are in control and can “kick butt” when necessary. We look for leaders who are aggressive and have high energy and iron self-discipline. Gentle people are seldom put in charge of things.

Our problem with this Beatitude is it does not seem practical. We believe that we need to look after ourselves, take charge, get life under control. If we don’t go out there and get things going, life will pass us by and we will be walked over and left in the dust. Richard Rohr describes our condition this way:

We are culturally taught that everything out there is hostile. I have to compare, dominate, control, and insure. In brief, I have to be in charge. That need to be in charge moves us deeper and deeper into a world of anxiety. (Rohr, Richard. Everything Belongs, p. 61)

“That need to be in charge” moves us far from the world of gentleness. It is hard to be gentle when you are responsible for running the show or when you have to look out for yourself all the time and keep your guard up. Gentleness does not work well in a world of anxiety and fear where everyone is fighting desperately for his or her little piece of a pie that feels far too small….

… inheriting the earth means being fed and nourished in the depths of our being so that we can be sustained even when external things let us down.

It is the gentle people who are sustained because they are willing to let go. Having come to the end of striving, grasping, demanding, needing, craving, and longing, they have learned to trust and to live in response to the inner prompting of God’s Spirit. Gentle people know that God is the only force capable of bringing true goodness into this world.

An inheritance is given as a gift. We do not build our inheritance or receive it through any merit of our own. It is given simply by virtue of our relationship. Gentle people know that they are related to God as children to a parent. Gentle people are open to receiving the inheritance of life. That is why they can afford to be gentle. Moving gently through life, they may appear to make less impact, but their power comes from being inwardly transformed. Having given up fighting for things that they then have to protect, they are courageous because they know that the inner Christ is their protection.

Gentle people are free with a freedom that can only come from the Christ who lives within us. (Christ Wisdom, pp. 33-35)