Matthew Tan explores what it means to be meek, rather than haughty, and how Jesus modelled this in his life, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection.
This Easter, I’ve been reading the Beatitudes again and placing them alongside Jesus own walk to the cross and resurrection, as a result I’ve glimpsed them afresh. And I've found myself reflecting again and again on Jesus' words, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5).
'Meek', meaning quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive. How might it be possible for these ones, the patient, forbearing, humble, to inherit the earth?
In our rough and tumble world, it’s the brash and bold, the strong and strategic, the confident and capable who rule, who lead, who control the earth. Yet Jesus in his powerful Beatitudes imagines a different world, where the meek inherit the earth.
In the chapter before the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks, his first public words - ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near’ (Mt 4:17).Jesus declares that God’s reign, God’s kingdom, God’s presence – has arrived, is drawing near. Matthew situates Jesus as the great fulfilment of the prophetic voice of Isaiah, the one who is ‘a great light’ and a dawning light for those in darkness and under the shadow of death. Jesus is here, the presence of God, the great deliverer has come and his Kingdom is among us (Mt 4:15-17).
The next time Jesus speaks publicly, he announces the Beatitudes. These evocative statements of blessing and promise come confidently and clearly from Jesus with great assurance. We hear he ‘saw the crowds’ and he repeatedly announces ‘Blessed are’ and ‘for they will’. In these powerful statements, Jesus gives us a feel for the kind of Kingdom that he’s bringing in; one of deliverance and redemption for those in need, resulting in joy for those receiving and participating in God’s gracious rescue.
This week we remember Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Mt 21:1-11). In his most earthly glorious moment, receiving the adulation of ‘a very great multitude’, receiving praise ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, Jesus is on a donkey. Not a great war horse, not a black stallion, but a young donkey. We can also guess he had no flying purple cape, intricate helmet or shiny golden sword, just an ordinary man sitting on a donkey, yet receiving an honoured expectant welcome of a King entering Jerusalem.
And for me, it’s the perfect illustration of this Beatitude and what it is to be meek. Jesus himself said he would be fulfilling Zechariah 9:9 ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! ... Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
Even as he receives a kingly welcome, Jesus does it meekly. And we know what this King goes on to do. This Easter we will remember how Jesus faces the cross. Fully surrendered and obedient to God, not avoiding conflict or being a doormat, but meek before God and useful for his purposes and work, Jesus does the ultimate battle with evil, for the good of others; laying his life down for each one of us, not protecting himself. Meekness.
This deep humility does not lead to darkness, or obliteration, or invisibility, but in great vindication and honouring of Jesus (Phil 2:5-11). Jesus, the resurrected one, is proclaimed Lord. The first fruits of the age to come, he will indeed inherit the earth. And he invites us to follow in his footsteps of meekness with the promise that we too will inherit.
What a promise! What a calling! So often what we can see in front of us, and what we are told by the world around us shape our hearts, and yet Jesus’ words and actions, make it clear that meekness, that obedience to God at all costs will result in wonderful blessing and future inheritance.
Do we believe it? Do we live it?
In all honesty, I rarely see meekness. The more I see of people (the more I know myself), we all seem driven by frailties, seeking appreciation and notice from others, finding value in work, relationships, possessions, concerned to secure our own positions.
Yet the determined gentleness of Jesus, the clarity of his calling and commitment to God, saw him rebuke Pharisees, cast out evil spirits, name sin and failure, defend those in need, with such humility and meekness, deeply dependent on and entrusted to God.
Jesus’ meekness is not easy. It requires self-possession, he knows who he is and what he is about. He’s not looking for human recognition, for others to give him his value or honour. He’s not assessing his worth by the evaluation of others, by the external trappings of his possessions, by others’ understanding of his calling and task. Rather, aware of who he is before God and what he is to do, he is meek – entrusted to the Father.
To be meek is difficult, it is not about securing your own position nor protecting yourself by keeping your head down, but for living your calling with uninterested boldness. The Christian message isn’t quietest, being meek is not a call not to challenge or unsettle, but quite the opposite. Christians assured of God’s love and Jesus’ call to follow, walk in meekness fully surrendered to God, not obsessed with their own status or self-preservation but ready to address the needs of others with the promise and secure hope of eternal inheritance.
This Palm Sunday look again and watch Jesus live out his belief that the meek are blessed and will inherit the earth.
Jessica Smith is Operations Director at Common Grace, and part of the ministry team at Paddington Anglican Church in Sydney. Image by Laura Garilio.