“Blessed are the
meek, for they shall
inherit the earth.”
[Matthew 5:5 TNIV]

Once upon a time I went around apologizing for anything and everything. It was a doe-eyed and breathy “Oh gosh, I’m so sorry,” that was meant to sound like I was the nicest and meekest guy in the world.

Now, though, I know better. Now I go around apologizing for anything and everything, usually with a doe-eyed and breathy “Oh gosh, I’m so sorry” because I just have this damned habit, see. I know it’s not because I’m the nicest guy anywhere, and I know it’s not meekness.

Of course, that’s what many, maybe most folks think “meekness” is – apologizing like you have an apology gene on steroids.

Of course, I would love it (I think) if people like that did inherit the earth – and run it too – although in my better, less door-matty mind I know I’d soon go crazy with all of that seemingly uncaused niceness that really is just a cheapo cover-up for something actually not so nice.

But maybe someday we can chat about what that “something … not so nice” really is. Today, let’s chat about what the Bible does – and doesn’t – mean by being meek.

A clue lies in the English word often used to translate the Greek word for “meek” which is italicized and underlined in the words of Matthew 5:5, quoted above.

(“TNIV”, by the way, means “Today’s New International Version of the Bible.” It is the old NIV reworked in nicely gender-inclusive language, along with a few other scholarly changes. Sadly, it seems not to have caught on among evangelical Protestants, for whom it was especially intended – rather like winning pennants seems never to have caught on with the Chicago Cubs.)
And that English word often used instead of “meek” is humble.
The English word “humble” is rooted (no pun intended, but it would be a good one if intended!) in the Latin word from which we get our English word humus.  It suggests soil, earth, earthy again.

The “meek” are the humus of the earth, the earth people, the earthy people. Of course, this could have "Green" undertones; but first and foremost, it just has earthy undertones.  These are the down-to-earth people. They literally are grounded – something usually seen as a virtue by usually the same folks who often deride Christian meekness.

Now, the Christian New Testament was written in a version of Greek that was in use around the eastern end of the Mediterranean during the first century of the Common Era. And so whether our English version of the New Testament reads “Blessed are the meek…” or “Blessed are the humble,” it’s just one Greek word being translated.

And that one Greek word means gentle or mild or … humble.
Blessed are the rooted, grounded, down-to-earth folks, for they will inherit the earth.

Here's one more Greek word from Matthew 5:5, and it, too, is important: the one translated here as earth -- it means soil. Earth.

It can be used metaphorically to refer to a region or district, a province or entire country … but basically it, too, means dirth, earth.

Putting it all together, Matthew 5:5 says this:

“Blessed are the grounded, rooted, down-to-earth
folks, for they shall inherit that same earth.

Which, when you think about it, makes sense: they were close to that earth to begin with. They know it intimately. They know it better than most of the rest of us, so, who better to run that earth when the Time comes? (“Time” spelled deliberately with a capitol “T” … in reference to the coming “Great and Terrible Day of the Lord,” the Restoration of All Things, the inbreaking of Eternity-time [God’s] into Ordinary-time [the universe’s], the Great Transfiguration, and/or whatever you in your own faith tradition may say to refer to the coming of God’s Final Reign.)

Everything I have said thus far is intended largely to demonstrate one thing: the meek, the humble, do not go around apologizing all the time for everything.

They are not doormats. They are not pushovers. They most definitely are not the wimps of the world.

Before we say what they are – or at least what they might be – let’s look at one person specifically called “meek” in the Bible. Let’s look at Moses, who, we are told, …

“… was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” [Numbers 12:3 TNIV]

The Hebrew Bible (Christian “Old Testament,” but remember that for Jesus and all other Jewish people this was their Bible) was written in Hebrew. And the word translated here as “humble” is the only word used this way in the entire Hebrew Bible, and basically it means gentle (state of mind and emotions) and/or lowly, poor (circumstances).

Moses was a gentle man … Moses was a lowly (as in poor) man.
Now before we go on, I'll throw a curve here. For a very long time in the ancient world, the majority of the Jewish people lived in exile, outside of the site of ancient Israel although mostly still in the general area of the Mediterranean. The exile was known as the "Diaspora."

In fact, Diaspora Jews tended to live mostly in what once had been the Greek Empire.

Living outside of the homeland, they began to speak the language of the nations in which they lived; and over the course of a few generations, they largely forgot how to speak and read Hebrew.

So the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, since Greek was the language of diplomacy and commerce just about everywhere in the former Greek Empire.

This translation was known as the “Septuagint” and actually was the one still in use at the time of Jesus, and in fact used by almost all (maybe all) of the New Testament writers. If a New Testament writer quotes from, let’s say, a Psalm or a prophet … and that quotation differs from what you see in your Bible (in English)… that’s because the writer is quoting from the Septuagint, which did vary somewhat from the Hebrew version at a few points.

So: in the Septuagint (Greek) of Numbers 12:3, what is the word used to describe Moses?

The Greek word is the same – and again it's translated gentle or mild or humble. The only difference is that, at Numbers 12:3, there is an additional word, an adjective that is translated as "exceedingly" ... as in, Moses was exceedingly grounded.  Moses was super-extra down-to-earth … gentle, humble, mild, lowly, poor.

And this is important because Moses was anything but a doormat and a chronic apologizer.

He killed an Egyptian who was abusing his people (Exodus 2:12).

He fled into, and survived, the Wilderness east of Egypt

He returned to Egypt, faced down Pharaoh and Pharaoh’s court spin doctors (magicians -- what else does a magician do but make things different by just saying they are? and what else is that but "spin-doctoring"?)

He led his people by the thousands out of Egypt while chased by the military on a night flight that ranks among as dramatic as any in recorded history (in fiction too, for that matter)

He led them through, and himself survived and outlived most of them in, the Wilderness for 40 years

He put down rebellions, settled disputes and such “lawsuits” as they might have had prior to the giving of Hebrew Torah (“law”). 

And when Torah was given by Yahweh God to the people (Exodus 20) – and later given again (Exodus 34) – it was Moses alone who had the guts to brave what probably was an active volcano (see Exodus 19:16ff) to let God speak through otherwise pure natural fury and terror … to blow away any and all tattered filaments and ripped-up threads of his former way of life, his former mind and “world view,” by its (the volcano's) inconceivable and raw, unfiltered sheer power … so that in the “raw meat” of what was left of his consciousness, a new mind and understanding might be placed … engraved in flesh as if on tablets of stone … and in turn relayed faithfully to these folks now gone wild back in the valley below … this absolutely dreadful, fearful encounter with Yahweh God, face-to-face … in order to come away dramatically changed but not, surprisingly, annihilated … with this new understanding of what would be required for life together in this new and scarred and intense community one day to be known as the Nation of Israel.

No doormats do that. No doormats will do that. No doormats can do that. No, these extraordinarily bold and gutsy things are done by the humble.  They are done by those who ordinarily have nothing left to lose ... or, if they do have something left to lose, nevertheless have managed to live as though they don't.  And ordinarily that means the poor (Luke 6:20) ... or at least those who have adopted and internalized the "world view" and values of the poor (Matthew 5:3).

Moses was a bold, an incredibly gutsy and brave guy. He was the meekest, most humble man they ever knew, and he did not go around apologizing for anything!

Interestingly, Moses also later was remembered as a prophet – those uncanny and infuriating poets who told the truth to raw political power and escaped, if they did, with their lives only barely: the Elijahs and Elishas, the Jeremiahs and Amoses and Micahs and Jonahs, even if some of them (like Jonah) existed primarily in the form of parable … each and every one of whom risked everything to tell the powerful what they did not want to hear.

They were incredibly gutsy and brave women (yes, there were female prophets) and men, and not a single one of them was a doormat. Had they gone around apologizing for anything, they would have been spewed out by Yahweh God as some kind of tepid and tasteless water (see Revelation 3:15-17, a letter written to a church that had failed precisely in its prophetic function).

That Jesus Himself – who modeled His ministry specifically along the lines of Moses (c.f. the Gospel of Matthew) and the prophets (Jeremiah in particular is a constant allusion throughout the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke); who had assassins and death squads after him almost from the git-go (c.f. Mark 3:6 and from then on); who was arrested, beaten up, subjected to a show trial, abandoned by just about all of His followers (and He saw that coming and went through with everything anyway), scourged (whipped just one blow short of the last and lethal one), put to death by the mode considered the most shameful of them all and therefore reserved for thieves and revolutionaries (which is what the placard atop the Cross, saying “This is the King of the Jews” in three languages was all about: charges of sedition, of conspiracy against the state, of terrorism to borrow a word), good decent Roman citizens need not apply; dying in one of the most hideous ways in the Roman repertoire of hideous ways – this Jesus Himself most certainly was not a doormat, not an apologizer of any sort.

He definitely was a humble Man, a meek Man, in all the ways described above.

And He definitely was a poor man, One with no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20).  He definitely was grounded -- each night, by the time of His ministry described in Matthew 8:20, He had to lay His head on the ground to sleep.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So where does this study leave us?

I only wanted to dismantle the common notion that “meekness” and “humbleness” are wimp-words, so will not dwell much on where this leaves us next.

They (the words meek and humble) are anything but wimp-words.
It takes a bold and gutsy, mighty mighty person – inside,, where all begins, where it counts – to be meek.

A central truth in all of this – perhaps the central truth – is that there is a “class” of people whom are meek, in the eyes of the Bible, Hebrew and Christian Testaments alike:

The Poor.

They are the ones who are rooted and grounded in the earth through no choice of their own.

They are the great great majority.

All political cant and rhetoric aside, they are the 99% ... now, and throughout history.

If you are reading this at all (meaning, you can read) – let alone on a computer – you almost certainly are not part of the 99% … and I say that with full respect and support for the “Occupy Wall Street” movement around the world. But rhetoric is rhetoric, and few if any of us are really part of the world’s vast majority, the real 99%

(That doesn't mean we don't have our own prophetic calling to challenge the 1%. We do.)

They, the poor, are close to the earth because there’s nowhere else to go. You have seen the barrios and favelas of the world, haven't you? In pictures at least? They are as close to raw earth as anything you'll ever seen, ever find, short maybe of grass or a tree.  And at the risk of getting carried away here with the overplus of metaphors: was the Cross itself not a Tree? (C.f. the vast hymnology, poetry and other literature that "works" that specific image of Cross as Tree.)

Throughout the Bible, the poor seem to be the special focus of Yahweh God’s special passion and concern, and ultimately of Yahweh’s Great and Final Day, Yahweh’s ultimate Great Reversal of all things. It is no joke that the “last shall be first” (see e.g. Matthew 19:30 among many others)

Jesus was, and is, One of them. If we want to find Him, Jesus, it is to them that we must go, and it is they whom we must serve (Matthew 25:31ff).

We must learn to be like them inside ourselves – in such nether-regions as our thoughts, emotions, world-views, values, ultimate passions and goals (Matthew 5:3, just two verses prior to our text here.

That’s scary and damn sobering business.

To shut our eyes to it, will result -- on that Day -- in our going around apologizing about anything and everything, and to keep on doing so just about forever (whatever "forever" means in terms of God’s time; the only possible “good news” in the word is that it is God time, not our smaller and conceited versions thereof).

What Matthew 5:5, and that squirmy word meek, all mean is: get busy getting down low, with the wretched of the earth, so at the End there will be no need for any of us to apologize … to the One and the only One before whom any of this ultimately will matter.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.


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