Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). According to Jesus, “the earth” (referring here to the “kingdom of God”) is the possession of the meek. Meekness is not weakness. Jesus challenged the powers that be when he intentionally pushed the edges of religious respectability through his practice of an open table (inclusivity), identification with the marginalized, healing on the Sabbath, and intentional disregard for the holiness laws of clean and unclean.
Jesus did not, however, use his charismatic, spiritual power to control or coerce others to do his bidding. He emptied himself of all selfish ambition, and both embodied and taught forgiveness, non-violence, and peacemaking.
The word translated “meek” in Jesus’ beatitude could just as easily be translated “humble.” Humility, as expressed by Jesus, did not in any way resemble timidity. It took great courage, restraint, and spiritual strength for Jesus to confront the injustice and exclusivity of the powers that be, knowing full well that his challenging of the status quo would evoke the hate and animosity of the religious and political establishment, eventually bringing about his death.
What is authentic humility? Rolling Stone Magazine interviewed Scott Weiland of the band, “The Stone Temple Pilots,” after he had been released from prison, having served a term for drug possession. (Not that I know Scott Weiland; I’m still listening to Bob Dylan and James Taylor.) In the interview he kept using the word “humility.” The reporter asked him to define the term. Scott Weiland said, “It’s not me thinking less of myself. It’s me thinking of myself less.”
In my opinion, too many Christians have overemphasized the biblical story of the fall at the expense of the story of creation. Certainly we are all flawed and broken. We have a selfish bent and a strong propensity to seek and misuse worldly power. But that doesn’t mean that we are “no good” or “no account.” Humility is not someone saying, “I am a wretch; I am a worm.” It is not debasement, self-contempt, or self-hate.
We are created in God’s image. The biblical story of redemption is rooted in our worth and value. Every person is a child of God, no matter how flawed or sinful. We are each worth redeeming, and I believe, in God’s time (it will take much longer with some than others) every one will be redeemed. I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus serves as the ultimate demonstration that divine love will one day triumph, transforming the most evil persons into persons who will finally learn how to be good, merciful, and just.
Humility is not thinking less of myself, but thinking of myself less, so I can think of others and serve others. It is being less self-absorbed, so I can be more other-centered. It is being less preoccupied with my ego desires, so I can seek first the kingdom of God, nurture caring relationships, and work for the good of the planet.
Meekness is not weakness, humility is not timidity, and Jesus’ relinquishment of worldly power is not powerlessness. In God’s upside-down kingdom, the powerbrokers of the world will find themselves last, and the meek will inherit the earth.
(This is Part 3 in the series, “Blogging on the Beatitudes.")