Blessed are the Gentle – Sermon Text
Today as we come to explore the third beatitude, the first observation I would like to make is that the phrase “Blessed are the meek, they will inherit the earth” is almost a direct quotation from Psalm 37:11. The only thing that is missing is the phrase “Blessed are…”
In Psalm 37:11 it is phrased as follows: “The meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity.”
The essence of Psalm 37 is a warning and a caution not to fret when you see unjust, wicked or untrustworthy people prospering. The opening verses of Psalm 37 sets the tone for the whole psalm.
1 Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
The Psalm goes on in verse 3:
3 Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
And then Verses 10 and 11 in a way form something of a punchline for the entire Psalm.
10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.
11 But the meek will inherit the land/earth
and enjoy peace and prosperity.
And so in the context of Psalm 37, the meaning of ‘meekness’ is really about trusting God, the Great Wisdom that holds us. It is about not fretting, or giving in to anger when you see the unjust, the unrighteous or the devious prospering.
To be ‘meek’ according to Psalm 37 is to trust that there is a Higher Wisdom at work. It is to trust that in God’s time and in God’s way, God’s justice and ultimate Goodness will somehow prevail; that God’s universe is not chaotic or ultimately unjust but rather that the God who is Love and Goodness, is also Truth and Light and that perfect justice ultimately rules the world, even though we may not always be able to see it or perceive it clearly.
How much energy do we burn up and expend bemoaning the sins, faults and the wickedness of others, especially those in positions of authority and power. The meek according to Psalm 37 have left all those cares and concerns into the hands into the Divine, Cosmic Wisdom and having done so they can direct their energies into more constructive places, lighting candles instead of cursing the darkness.
“Blessed are the meek, they will inherit the earth”... “Blessed are those who trust in the higher Divine wisdom and justice, they will be enabled to live on earth with greater inner freedom.”
A second observation I would like to make, is that the English word ‘meek’ is in fact no longer the most helpful translation. I read one commentary that suggested that the meaning of the English word ‘meek’ has changed over the centuries since it was first used by the early English Reformers when translating the Bible into English.
Whereas the original meaning of ‘meek’ would have been – being humble, patient and gentle, it has today come more and more to mean to be submissive and easily imposed upon, and therefore as being weak.
But the original Greek word praus in our text would have been far closer to the idea of being gentle and humble.
Quite a number of modern translations of Matthew 5:5 therefore use the word gentle.
“Blessed are the gentle, they will inherit the earth”
What is interesting is that in most other places in the New Testament where the Greek word Praus is used, it is translated as gentle and on some occasions as humble. In fact, I found it quite astonishing how often the word gentle is used through-out the New Testament. The value of gentleness is dotted all across the New Testament.
Phil 4:5 Let you gentleness be known to all
Titus 3:2 urges Christians “...To speak evil of no one... [but] to be gentle, and courteous toward all people.”
2 Timothy 2:24-26 tells us that an elder in the Church must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone...correcting his opponents with gentleness.
In Galatians 6:1 Paul writes of restoring others who have sinned in a spirit of gentleness
It seems that in the New Testament, gentleness is consistently described as being a key attribute of Christian conduct and behaviour. In Matthew 11 Jesus even describes himself as gentle.
“Come unto me, all you that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble of heart: and you shall find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28
And as Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, quoting from Zachariah, Matthew 21:4-5, Jesus is described as gentle and riding on a donkey. He is gentle as he welcomes children and blesses them. He is gentle as he responds to the woman caught in adultery as well as the women who anoints his feet. He reaches out and touches with gentleness the man with leprosy.
But as we read the Gospels in all their fullness we see that the gentleness of Jesus is anything but weak. There is a strength in Jesus that enables him to stand his ground and even confront religious authorities whose religiosity have made them hard-hearted and uncaring. There is a strength in Jesus as he walks resolutely to Jerusalem even though he knows he is walking to his death. The gentleness of Jesus is born of an inner strength, not from weakness.
I found a quote online from Leo Rosten. He writes:
“I learned that it is the weak who are cruel, and that gentleness is to be expected only from the strong.”
And Andy Mort, who describes himself as a Coach for Gentle Rebels writes:
“...There is nothing strong about the person who is quick to lose temper and resort to aggression and violence in their spirit, words, and action. This is anything but strength, it is in fact a display of profound weakness...”
In contrast, those who are gentle are strong and full of self-control. In fact without the inner strength of self-control, there would be no true gentleness at all.
And so another Christian writer, Gayle Erwin writes that “Gentleness is not apathy but is an aggressive expression of how we view people. We see people as so valuable that we deal with them in gentleness...”
Blessed are the gentle, says Jesus, they will inherit the earth.
Thirdly, I would like to briefly wrestle with this question of the meek inheriting the earth. It has never quite made sense to me. In probably over three thousand years or more since Psalm 37 stated that the meek will inherit the land, it would seem that our world is still structured in a way that benefits the aggressive, the greedy, the pushers and the exploiters?
What could it mean then that the gentle will inherit the earth? As I was chewing on this question during the week, it struck me that in fact there is in fact very profound truth within it that we all need to hear.
If our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to inherit the earth from us, then we are all going to need to learn to walk more gently upon it. Unless we all learn to live more gently on the earth, there is not going to be much left to inherit. In Psalm 37, the wicked are described as those who borrow from others and do not repay. Our current way of life is living off resources borrowed from future generations, our children and grand-children and great grand-children. Has the time perhaps come for us to begin to repay what we have borrowed? And if we had to all use our imaginations what might life begin to look like? What would need to change in our way of life if we were to all to learn to live with more gentleness on the earth?
It was wonderful to hear Prince William this week questioning those billionaires who are jetting off on private trips into space. He said the time has come for us to stop trying to find other places to live in outer space, but rather to use our resources to instead fix this world. Everyone needs to learn to live with greater gentleness, even our millionaires and billionaires.
And what might it mean to begin to live more gently on the earth? It doesn’t necessarily mean gluing ourselves to motorways… it could be as simple as as considering how we spend our money, what we spend it on and how much we’re willing to waste. In what way are you and I being asked to become gentle revolutionaries.
Blessed are the gentle, says Jesus, they will inherit the earth.
I would like to close with a brief story that my father shared with me that encapsulates something of the both the strength and the power of gentleness:
At one of the theological colleges in England where my father taught, the principal of the college, a minister, reflected on the meaning of the phrase “the wrath of the Lamb”. You might recognise the phrase from our preaching series on Revelation. It is found in Rev 6:16.
In reflecting on this phrase: “the wrath of the lamb”, the minster told of how he had got home from work one day, tired, withdrawn and irritable. And in this state of unpleasant irritability, he had been abrupt and even rude to his little 4 year old daughter who had come over to spend time with him as he arrived home.
After having dealt with her rather abruptly and rudely, he got up and went off to his study to be by himself. A few minutes later, he heard a little knock on the door. It was his daughter. As she opened the door and stood at a distance in the doorway, she simply said: “I love you daddy!”
He said in that moment, through the innocence and gentleness of his four year-old daughter, he had come to understand what the book of Revelations means when it speaks of “the wrath of the lamb”.
“I love you daddy!” she had said. And in that moment, he was pierced to the heart.
There is power in gentleness. In Proverbs 15:1 we read “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
“Blessed are the gentle”, says Jesus, “they shall inherit the earth”.