Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
Reflection – The third beatitude comes to us as a direct challenge to the prevailing worldly attitude. We tend, we worldly people, to think that it is the aggressive and the loud, the pushy and the powerful, who end up winning the game of life and possessing the earth. ‘Whoever dies with the most toys wins,’ was the joke so-called when I was a lad in the 1980s. I don’t think it’s changed all that much.
I’m not sure meekness is even seen as a virtue particularly any more. Who wants to be ‘meek’. Isn’t that being a pushover, a patsy, a wimp, a perpetual victim? What good does that do? And again, as the beatitudes of Jesus so often force us to ask, what on earth is so ‘blessed’ about that?
Well, first, a little Greek and Hebrew to the rescue. This is a case where it actually does help to know the ancient languages. The word in Matt 5:5 translated as ‘meek’ is praus (you’ll have to imagine the umlaut over the ‘u’, as I can’t figure out how to do it in Mac Word). Pronounced: pra-ees. Praus is the Greek word for the Hebrew anaw from which we get the plural anawim, the poor, the lowly ones, the ones who have no defense against life and its ravages, who have no recourse but the Lord.
Blessed are the anawim, the little ones, the poor of the world who have nothing but God on their side. So that clears that up, right? No? Well, for starters, it is a matter of record in the history of Israel that whenever a marauding army of this or that empire would sweep through Israel or Judah, all the powerful people, the leaders of the nation, the intelligentsia, the rich, would be killed or carried off into exile.
The people who weren’t worth bothering with, who posed no threat to the imperial power structure, who were for the most part left alone? The anawim. The am ha-aretz—the people of the land, who de facto inherited the ‘earth’ of Israel because they were the last ones left, because they didn’t matter much one way or the other.
So scripturally the weak and the lowly, the meek and the poor, are the very ones who end up making it through, end up being the remnant who survive. Now, that’s all well and good scripturally, but what does it mean for you and me here and now today? Is it relevant to our lives?
I think it is deeply relevant, of course. As I see it (and I would never claim that my take on it is the last word), it’s all about where we find our security. Is your security in your possessions? One house fire, one natural disaster, one bad economic downturn, and they’re all gone. Is your security in being surrounded by people you love—family, friends? But they might not be there, either—all flesh is passing away.
Is your security in your own strength, intelligence, force of will, charm of body or manner? Ummm… all that has a shelf life, you know, and it doesn’t really secure much, as it turns out. Or maybe your security is in being a really, really good person, being faithful to your religious duties and being nice all the time. That doesn’t work, either. Sin has a way of cropping up in all our lives, and anyhow bad things happen to good people like clockwork in this world.
The only real security is to have no security but the Lord and his mercy and love. That is the one reality in life that does not fail, that cannot fail. The ‘meek’, the anawim, the poor of the land, are forced to this because they really don’t have anything else but mercy to live by. Those of us who may still have one or two other cards to play or at least think we do are nonetheless called to imitate them, to adopt that attitude of heart.
To have nothing but God to rely on, and to rely on nothing but God—this makes you indestructible. To have as your sole prized possession the mercy and love of God means you can never be robbed of anything that really matters to you. The ‘earth’, the land we possess is the kingdom of God, not this or that bit of real estate. And that, as far as I understand it, is what this third beatitude means.