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Aug 17 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

August 13, 2017 – Matthew 5:5

Why Choose to Be Meek?

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

Intro: I’ve told you this story before, but it applies so well I must tell it again

We were in Caesarea Maritime the first day of our Israel tour. The guide had delivered his spiel, we had our Bible study and were heading back to the bus. A young man came up behind myself and the two people walking with me. He was really upset and said, “Would you look at this!” With thumb and index finger he was holding his shirt gingerly away from his skin. His shoulder had been targeted, which by the look of what he left behind, must have been a very large seagull.
Just then another tour guide was passing us and in her strong Hebrew accent said, “It’s a blessing.” The young man looked up with a doubtful expression and said, “It’s a blessing?!” Without turning back to look at us, the guide said over her shoulder, “It’s a blessing cows don’t fly.”

Two different Hebrew and Greek words are translated into English by the one word, blessing
– one word refers to  God-given blessings
• promote a person’s welfare — shalom
• in ancient Israel, blessings included health, a large family, crops and livestock, and a long life
◦ every good thing that made for a rich and full life
– the other word refers to a state of thriving
• this was the condition of a person who had received blessings
◦ who fit the description of a rich and full life

  1. berakah (Heb. Ps. 84:5) eulogetos (Grk. Ep. 1:3): God’s gracious gifts
  2. esher (Heb. cf. Ps. 84:6) makarios (Grk. Mt. 5:5): to thrive, flourish
    – the gifts (berakah) produce the condition (esher)

• what this means is that the Beatitudes are not “if-then” statements
(that is, “If you do this, then God will bless you”)
◦ when people find themselves in the Beatitudes, they are thriving

The Beatitudes have a definite form or pattern
– we see it first in the Hebrew Scriptures; for example:

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,

Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in his law he meditates day and night. (Ps. 1:1)

• here “Blessed” (esher) describes a state
• this person is flourishing “like a tree / Planted by the rivers of water” (Ps. 1:3)
– the Beatitudes  are statements of fact, but also insights and invitations

Jonathon Pennington, “Jesus is offering and inviting his hearers into the way of being in the world that will result in their true and full flourishing now and in the age to come.

Now we notice something strange about Jesus’ beatitudes

They present a shocking contradiction to our common sense view of life
– and not just our way of life, but the teaching found in The Proverbs as well
• poverty, grief, hunger and thirst do not look like a blessed state
◦ this is not a picture of prosperity, prestige or prominence
• instead, this looks like a description of losers, the down and out, the pathetic
– the word translated “gentle” also means mild or humble
• it was used in reference to an animal that had been tamed
◦ the wild stallion, now saddled and subject to the will of its rider
• in Greek translation of the Old Testament, it was used of a person who did not own property and so became a servant
◦ humility in the Roman world, a virtue, but within limits
◦ any loss of honor was detrimental to a person’s social standing

We do not associate a mild temperament and humility with success
– a “gentle” football team would not win many games
• I think Bible translators and commentators have been afraid of the word “meek”
◦ it does not mean spineless, but neither does it mean “power held in check”
• meek is self-effacing, conciliatory, and often weak
– years ago, a friend pointed something out to me
• whenever news cameras showed up at Calvary Chapel,
◦ there was one pastor who always jumped in front of them–and, he got noticed
• those who hang back are ignored
◦ humility is not the same as low self-esteem, shyness or insecurity
◦ but no matter, because the humble are lumped in the same category

Why would we choose to be meek (humble, mild, domesticated)?

Even if we know that these qualities will be rewarded in the future,
– is that a big enough incentive to make huge sacrifices now?
• for many Christians, it is easy to doubt, ignore and reject this Beatitude
• though they go on talking about faith,
◦ they adopt the standards, methods and goals of the rest of society
– but here’s the answer to why we would choose to be meek:
• we don’t choose it – humility comes to us
◦ when kids in school chose team members, more than once, I was the last pick
(and usually it was, “You guys can have Smith”)
◦ humiliations and demotions happen to us naturally
• meekness is characteristic of compassionate and caring people
◦ people of integrity frequently suffer demotions

Jesus is addressing people who are already meek
– or who are certainly headed in that direction
• his disciples, in fact, learn meekness from Jesus

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle [meek] and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Mt. 11:29)

• it is for Jesus’ sake that meekness finds us (v. 11, “because of Me”)
– this beatitude is an invitation to see our situation differently

Jonathan Pennington, “Jesus presents not a list of heroes of the faith nor a list of moral behaviors that describe the truly pious but rather a redefinition of who the people of God are—they are the ones whose lives look like this beatitudinal way of being (and like Jesus himself.) The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing

• here is one way of thinking about this Beatitude:

“Blessed are those who aren’t chosen by either team,
or for the beauty pageant, or madrigals,
and for that reason are not driven by competition,
but instead learn compassion and cooperation”

Can you think of ways that God keeps you humble?

I get all worked up when pressed for time and the grandkids start bugging me
– my first tendency is to be short with them, tell them I’m busy
• but when I pause for a breath or two, I remember: “I’m not that important”
◦ not so important to neglect them or have no time for them
• it’s as if Jesus says, “They are not interruptions; they are your life”
◦ then it’s easy to stop what I was doing and find out what they need
– I don’t know if it’s universal, but true for a lot of us,
• we care deeply about being recognized for our accomplishments
◦ for the work we put into a project,
◦ for our creative talent or intelligence
• a strong reaction to not being recognized can be a trigger
◦ it can remind ourselves of the “hidden life”

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3)

Fr. Romuald once told me, “It is useful for humility to sit in failure. It’s more helpful for achieving humility than success.”
– being stripped of everything–possessions, status, friends–
• isn’t fun, but there is value in it
◦ the illusions are removed
◦ then all we are left with is our true selves
– and, another spiritual benefit of letting go of the ego-self,
• is that I find myself pulled toward God
◦ and at the same time, drawn away from worldly distractions
• the spiritual life thrives where worldliness is starved

What I find helpful for coming back to humility

Two related words

– if I take myself too seriously, I am likely to take everything too seriously
• for example, when someone does not say Hi when he sees me
• or when someone does not return a phone call

I sat once on an isolated beach near Big Sur. At first I watched the waves and listened to them as they thundered on the shore. But after awhile I noticed another sound. There was a cliff that came down to the ocean at the far end of the beach. Below the cliff, a flock of seagulls were wading in the foamy water that flowed up onto the shore. I assumed they were searching for sand crabs. But every once in awhile, a wave would roll further up the shore forcing a number of the gulls into the air, and every time this happened they would squawk loudly as if angry at the sea. They were taking it personally.

Abbot John Chapman wrote, “I think it is an excellent thing to laugh at one’s self a little whenever one feels like a martyr!”

Blessed are those who have a good sense of humor, for they will not be ruined by what they see in the mirror

– my mortality, the fact of my death, reminds me to be humble
• when disciplining Adam, God gave him the unflattering reminder,

“For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19)

• in The Book of Joy (a week-long dialogue between the Dali Lama and Desmond Tutu) the Dali Lama observed:

“I think the maximum lifespan is about a hundred years. Compared to human history, a hundred years is quite short. So if we utilize that short period to create more problems on this planet, our life would be meaningless. . . . so we need to use our days wisely, to make our world a little better for everyone.”

Conc: The particular form of the Beatitudes

As I said, this is found in the Hebrew Scriptures, specifically the wisdom literature
– but there was another important aspect to the blessed state
• and that was the prophetic tradition that looked forward to Eden restored
• in the time of Jesus, these two traditions were combined
◦ and this combination is evident in the Beatitudes
◦ “for they shall inherit the earth” is forward looking
– the word translated “earth” occurs five times prior to this verse
• and each time, it is translated “land” (land of Judah, of Israel, etc.)
◦ an inheritance in the land has a specific meaning in the Old Testament

Now therefore, apportion this land for an inheritance to the nine tribes . . . (Jos. 13:7)

• the kingdom of heaven is the equivalent to Israel’s land of promise
◦ it is the goal to which we aspire

Blessed are the harmless, the unassuming, those who disappear in a crowd, for they have a secured place among God’s people in his coming kingdom

– the blessing is future — but Jesus tells us that the future is now
• not the whole, wonderful new world, but something real
• the Spirit gives us a glimpse, a taste, an experience of the future

And like the treasure buried in a field,
that is enough to inspire us
to surrender everything in the present
to enjoy the fullness of the future

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