Proverbs 16:20-22; 31-32
Rev. Kit Billings
January 30, 2005
A new group of applicants had just arrived in heaven. St. Peter instructed them, “All men who were henpecked on earth, please line up on the left; all those who were bosses in their own homes, line up on the right.” The line quickly formed on the left. Only one man, a Caspar Milktoast type, stepped to the right. St. Peter saw the frail fellow standing by himself and inquired, “What makes you think you belong on that side?” “Well,” said the meek little man, “this is where my wife told me to stand.”
This morning we're talking about the third Beatitude found in Matthew's Gospel, which lifts up the spiritual virtue of meekness. As we begin our reflection on this subject this morning, let us be reminded that the Beatitudes are central attitudes in faith that God feels are vital for us to find and enjoy true happiness in life. They are revelations about what God's Kingdom is (the kind of energy and substance God's Kingdom is composed of), and therefore they are keys that open up the kind of character that anyone must develop with the Lord's divine aid if we are serious about enjoying life in heaven after we die.
I'd like to deal with two inter-related subjects with you this morning concerning the third Beatitude: the real meaning of “meekness” as well as of what this passage calls “the earth.” What is Christ meaning by using the words meek and earth? And how do they relate to any one of us inheriting God's Kingdom both here while on earth and in heaven after we die. I will address these words in reverse order—first, the earth.
This passage in the Lord's holy Word is but one of many where being open to God's intended inner meaning is crucial. For indeed, God is much less concerned with His children inheriting counties or continents, but rather spiritual lands instead. The Lord cares deeply about you fully inheriting His Kingdom, His “spiritual earth”, in other words. Another word for God's lands in this plane of life is the deeper meaning of the often-used word: church. The meek and lowly of heart gain mighty participation in the Lord's church that is without walls, which exists everywhere on earth where a human being has love in God as well as faith in Him—two spiritual quantities that are not always the easiest to possess, but are worth everything we physically own and then some!
In a more psychological sense, when we come to inherit entrance into the Lord's spiritual church on earth, the land of peace and tranquility, we inherit something else that is very down to earth, you might say—which is a natural aspect within our minds that no longer has wild animals like uncontrolled temper and anxiety running wild but instead are controlled by the deeper spiritual degree of the mind. “Inheriting the earth” in the biblical sense is gaining control of our greed, lust, fear, anger and anxieties because we have finally allowed the Lord to gain control of our thoughts and affections, which only happens after some great and wonderful spiritual regeneration has unfolded over a number of years time. In the Old Testament, the language used was inheriting the “Promised Kingdom.” Indeed, God incarnate, our Lord Jesus Christ, cared deeply for our movement into thoughts, feelings and perspectives that make us happy from the inside-out! For indeed, the opening words in our lesson this morning are translated more accurately, O what bliss there is for the meek-spirited people, who will inherit their lot from God. O what bliss there is for those who enter into a state of spiritual regeneration! Yours is a beautiful way of living and seeing.
Now let's talk a bit about that undervalued word: meek or meekness. I do not know about you, but it is rare for me as an American to ever talk with someone who likes to be called “meek.” Most of us seem to feel that meekness involves timidity, frailty and a lack of good ole' back bone. As one theologian has said in our common misunderstanding of spiritual meekness, “It paints the picture of a submissive and ineffective creature.” Who wants to be a submissive and ineffective creature? I don't! And I'm guessing you do not either. What is helpful here is to look at the original Greek words found in these Scriptures and see more with a true light into what Christ was talking about.
It so happens that the Greek word for meek—praus—is one of the truly great Greek ethical words in history. The first standard meaning deals with finding the happy medium between emotional extremes. For example, let's reflect on the emotion of anger. The Greek ideal, when the Greek version of The Gospel of Matthew was written, of human anger that was controlled by meekness was neither excessive anger nor an extreme aversion to angerlessness. Rather, during Greco-Roman times meekness was that helpful medium between too much and too little anger. And so the first possible translation of this beatitude is: “Blessed is the man who is always angry at the right time, and never angry at the wrong time.”
In other words, it is good and vital that we feel angry about injustices happening in our world, but it is never a good thing when we respond to people who wrong us personally with red-hot, vehement anger. It is bad when parents get too angry, too often with their children, and yet important to express controlled anger at them when they hurt each other or stubbornly break a serious rule.
The word praus does have a second important usage in the Greek language, which relates to when an animal (perhaps an ox or a horse) has come to accept a necessary degree of control—when it relents, at last, to being trained to follow the will of its master without failing. There are chaotic and unruly affections within our natural mindedness, and these unregenerated forces within need to be reigned in, and the Lord's divine power of love and wisdom is the only force able to help us do that vital work and growth. Have you ever seen a good work dog helping its master control a flock of sheep? It's an amazing sight to watch. When a work animal has become domesticated and learned the art of following its master's commands, it has discovered a form of meekness. So the second possible translation of this beatitude is: “Blessed is the man who has every instinct, every impulse, every unruly passion under control. Blessed is the man who is self-controlled.”
Indeed, what a miracle it is once the principles of charity, the truths we find in God's Word and in our theology on spiritual charity (or compassion), come to life in a young man or woman's mind who has realized for themselves that only God's way is the right way, that only in God's will can we find true freedom. This means that in freedom a human being chooses to surrender himself to the will and leading of Pure Love—for God is love, the Good Book teaches (1 John 4:8). One of the most beautiful things I know of in life is when anyone begins to practice the art of opening up their heart, will and life to the Lord—willingly yielding themselves before a Power much greater than themselves Who can marvelously help us to get our inner house in order, making the principles of love, forgiveness, honesty, hard work, creative thoughtfulness and helpfulness a priority. What an awesome and wonderfully alive thing that is! How awesome it is when our inherited selfish inclinations realize that their day of reign is over and a new Master has come in charge—the same Master who called those fishermen, that tax collector and that scribe from their daily labors and routines to come and follow Him!
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for coming to us too and calling us into Your service! Thank You for coming to save us too.
These thoughts lead us into a third helpful usage of the Greek word praus, which in English is often translated as meek; it deals with that deeply important spiritual quality known as humility. In spiritual humility before God we realize that compared to Him we know nothing. Compared to the Lord's strength and power, we are weak. Indeed, what a great and mighty moment it is that first time when a man or woman has that great epiphany seeing within his or her mind: “O Lord my God, I am in such need of Thee!”
The Greek word praotes describes humility, the acceptance of the necessity to learn and of the necessity to be forgiven. It describes man's only proper attitude to God. So then, the third possible translation of this beatitude is: “Blessed is the man who has the humility to know his own ignorance, his own weakness, and his own need.” No wonder our Lord and Savior Jesus was heard saying of himself: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me: for I am meek and lowly of heart and you will find rest for your souls” (Mtt. 11:29). The yoke, in this sense, is that large, oval harness made for an ox that enables it to pull wonderfully heavy loads without being bruised and battered by the work. It is noteworthy to remember one of the many ways the great leader of God's people, Moses, was described in the Book of Numbers in 12:3, after his once faithful assistants Miriam and Aaron had rebelled and sinned against him, “Now Moses was a very meek and humble man, more than anyone else on the face of the earth.”
Moses was no milk-and-water character; he was no spineless creature; he could be blazingly angry; but he was a man whose zeal was on the leash, only to be released when the time was right. The writer of Proverbs has it right: “He that rules his spirit is better than he who takes a city” (Prov.16:32).
It was the lack of that very quality which ruined Alexander the Great, who, in a fit of uncontrolled temper in the middle of a drunken debauch, hurled a spear at his best friend and killed him. No man can lead others until he has mastered himself; no man can serve others until he has subjected himself; no man can be in control of others until he has learned to control himself. But the man who gives himself into the complete control of God will gain this meekness, which will indeed enable him to inherit the earth.
It is clear that this word praus means far more than the English word "meek" now means; it is, in fact, clear that there is no one English word which will translate it, although perhaps the word "gentle" comes nearest to it. The full translation of this third beatitude must read: “O the bliss of the woman who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time, who has every instinct, and impulse, and passion under control because she herself is God-controlled, who has the humility to realize her own ignorance and her own weakness, for such a woman is a queen among her fellow human beings!”
The bliss of the God-controlled life depends upon your willingness to fall in love with the Lord, so to speak, which is why one of the Lord's many names in the New Testament is “Bridegroom.” Your love in the Lord and your personal faith in Him are the foundation of spiritual meekness. Without love and trust in the Almighty one does not have the ability to bend a knee before Him, or ask the Lord to warmly place His hand upon your head or shoulder as you offer God the honor and position He truly deserves. Inviting the growth of a meek spirit is why every Muslim is commanded to kneel five times a day toward Mecca, praying personally to the Holy One of heaven. And those who are willing to fall down before God in lowly attitude (whether Christian, Jew or Muslim) in humble reverence find heaven—and oh indeed what bliss that is!
May your growth into a beautifully meek and humble servant of the Lord move very well in His divine wisdom and leading…now and evermore. Amen.