"Excuse me, WHO did you say would inherit the earth?"
At first glance, this saying of Jesus seems far from "the way of the world" as we know it.What did he mean by it? How does this verse address us today?
I. Beatitudinal Background
A. Early Christians tried to follow the Prince of Peace in a world of raw power and brute force. Their loving and gentle ways, not surprisingly, often got them rejected rather than rewarded, and punished rather than praised. No doubt they wondered at times, what's going on here?
B. In the face of this rough treatment, they held on to the promises of the Lord.
1. They could feel the "blessedness" of God's presence sustaining them, and they also believed that, soon enough, the way of love would triumph, and they would be very much at the center of God's new order.
C. In this verse, Christ tells us, the meek are blessed, and they are blessed specifically because "they shall inherit the earth". This must have been a powerful attraction to people who had suffered and lost much for their faith. Before there was a "spiritual" interpretation, they probably took it at face value.
II. Not In This Lifetime
A. If the "meek" are the humble, the gentle, poor, it is clear that they are not "inheritors" of the earth in any sense we might normally conceive of it.
1. Quite the opposite: history is in large part the long, sad, saga of the "meek" being forced off of what little land they had by the powerful and aggressive.
2. Moreover, the 'earth' and all creatures suffer and are in danger from our lack of meekness (respect, gentleness, and humility) toward creation's beautiful and mysterious ways of sustaining life.
III. A New Understanding
A. In our 21st Century world, we need a new appreciation of Christ's blessing of the meek, and of what it might mean to "inherit" the earth.
1. Recent article in NYT: New mayor of New York has ordered sweeping shift in priorities toward the poor and human rights. Rather than the astonishing exception to the rule, this needs to become normal procedure in our culture.
B. Meekness implies, non-grasping: receiving with open hands and hearts the gifts of God to sustain us.
C. Meekness can also mean honoring the mystery of God in the creation. A change in our society's whole ethos: not taking from the earth, but blessing and giving back to the earth.
D. A contemporary version of the text: "Blessed are you when you care for the poor, and love creation, for then earth will always be your home".