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Matthew 5:5-6

5 Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Jesus is continuing to describe for His listeners the nature of the kingdom of heaven. So far we have seen that the kingdom that Jesus speaks about is both a present and future reality. It is present now and those responding to God's Spirit who recognize their poverty of spirit are already receiving it. But its fulfillment, the full and complete enjoyment of all the King is giving, is in the future. Jesus is not giving commands or "if...then" statements here. He is describing the state of those who are blessed, who are receiving favor from God. And as we saw in looking at the first two beatitudes, this list is anything but what you would expect.

It is those who are poor in spirit that are truly blessed by God. These individuals know that they are not rich in and by themselves, they know they lack the ability to give themselves life. Jesus goes on to tell us more about these people in the rest of the beatitudes. The poor in spirit are those who mourn, who sorrow over the inevitable losses that are incurred in this broken and fallen world. From the world's point of view, neither of these conditions are ones that should be called "blessed". If anything, they are usually regarded as signs that one is not blessed, not enjoying God's favor, presence, or goodness.

Now Jesus goes on to tell us that these, blessed poor in spirit are those, who are meek. The word "meek" tends to have very negative connotations in our world. It is usually associated with being weak, unable to fight for oneself, or stand up for one's self. In a world that respects strength and power, the meek are viewed as those to be looked down on and taken advantage of.

Is this the true meaning of the word? Are the meek merely wimps? I decided to dig a bit deeper to find out. I looked up the word in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. In the Old Testament the prophets speak out against the sins of the wealthy, especially their tendency to exploit others for their own gain. Being rich tempts one to do evil to others for one's own benefit. In contrast to the rich, there are the oppressed, the lowly who are patient and calm in the face of human injustice and fate. But these meek are not merely stoically patient, striving to be gentle by the exercise of sheer will. They are waiting on the God who hears the cries of the oppressed.

From the heavens thou didst utter judgment;
the earth feared and was still,
when God arose to establish judgment
to save all the oppressed of the earth. (Ps. 16:8&9)

The Lord lifts up the downtrodden,
he casts the wicked to the ground. (Ps. 147:6)

For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with victory. (Ps. 149:4)

For the wicked shall be cut off;
but those who wait for the Lord shall possess the land. (Ps. 37:9)

Those listening to Jesus may have heard, in His words, echoes of these Old Testament passages. Their God is the One Who heard the cries of His people when they were slaves in Egypt, and raised up Moses to deliver them and give them a land of their own. Now, as they listened to Jesus, they were again oppressed, conquered by the Romans.

But Jesus is not saying that those who are oppressed are blessed, but those who are meek. The zealots of Jesus' day were oppressed Jews as well, but they believed in using whatever means necessary to throw off their Roman rulers. The meek are those who do not fight evil with evil. The meek are those who refuse to resort to evil means, such as deceit, manipulation, or brute force to obtain what is rightfully theirs. In the face of evil they remain patient, calm, and resolute. These are the ones that Jesus declares to be blessed. This is similar to the preceding beatitude on mourning. It is not that you have suffered a loss that indicates that you are blessed, but that you respond to that loss with mourning. It is not that you lack what is justly yours that makes you blessed, but that you respond with meekness.

The word "meek" is rarely used in the New Testament. But it does come up again two more times in Matthew, both times to describe Jesus. In Mt. 21:5, Jesus fulfils the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 in His triumphal entry into Jerusalem: "Behold, your king is coming to you, humble (same word that is translated "meek") and mounted on an ass..." In Mt. 11:28-30 Jesus uses the word to describe Himself: "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." This is a fascinating passage and gives us further insight into the meaning of "meek." Jesus here indicates that the reason that His yoke, rather than our own, can give us rest is because He is "meek and lowly in heart." What does being meek and receiving rest have to do with each other? Jesus never resorts to evil means to save His life or get His own way. The reason He is able to be meek is that He is counting on His Father to give Him life, authority, identity, purpose. Jesus knows that His Father is there, working in and through Him, loving Him and calling Him "Son." This is what frees Jesus to be meek. He is counting on the Father to give Him justice.

This gives us a fuller picture of what it means to be meek. Someone who is meek does not count on themselves to get what is theirs by whatever means necessary because they are counting on someone else. They know that if they are to get "what is theirs" they will need to count on One Who is greater and more able to take care of what is theirs. One who is meek therefore is not primarily concerned for themselves and protecting their things. In John 13, Jesus washes the disciples' feet because, John tells us, He knows where He came from and where He is going. His future is in Another's hands. And this is why there is rest for Jesus and why we can find rest in Him. He rests in His Father's presence and work, rather than in His own strength.

The meek ones whom Jesus addresses then are those who do not want to advance themselves by underhanded, manipulative, evil means. They want to rely on One who is greater to give them life with all its blessings. Jesus says that those who see the wrong of getting their own in whatever way possible are blessed because they will get...not just "what is theirs" but they will "inherit the earth." The whole earth will be theirs, kept for them as an inheritance! They can lose nothing of importance if that is the case. And counting on this inheritance, kept for them by their heavenly Father, frees them to continue to be meek.

Next Jesus tells His readers, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." You can see how this is related to the statement on the meek. The meek are those who reject evil means to achieve even good ends. Here Jesus is talking about having a deep longing for righteousness in all aspects of life. It makes sense that one who desires righteousness would be hesitant to actively use what is not righteous.

What is righteousness? Often I think we assume it is the achievement of some perfect and unnatural state. But righteousness is more simple and far more broad than that. Righteousness is having all things set right. When there is righteousness in the world then all things will be in right relationship with one another and will be living and acting according to its created purpose. To desire righteousness in ourselves is to desire that we are living in line with who we were created to be and not in rebellion to it. Jesus says here that one who is hungering for righteousness is blessed. This means that these people are those who ache to see things made right, in all places. The desire is so deep, so intense, that they feel they cannot live without it. The person that Jesus is talking about here is longing to see, for example, justice in the Middle East and relationships full of joy, blessing, and peace around them.

In our world, we are taught to put up with an awful lot of garbage. We assume that being treated poorly and treating others poorly is just part of the way life is. I find that often when I counsel people they play down the evil that has been done to them as "no big deal." I knew someone who told me once that he believed the best way to raise his kids was to tease them when they were very young to get them ready for the cold cruel world. It is considered somewhat macho or stoic to be able to put up with the garbage we are so free to pass around to others. We are supposed to not be offended by others' cutting remarks since being offended or hurt is a sign of weakness. So it is likely that we do not consider it a blessed state to be physically aching over the unrighteousness of the words and actions we see around us or in ourselves. We might wonder why we should care so much when others don't seem to mind, or we might fear being teased about being too soft. But here Jesus says to be deeply desirous of seeing relationships and people made right is a sign of God's work and favor in your life. This is the very thing, Jesus is saying, that God is growing in us. To resist it is to resist the work of God.

Was Jesus hungering for righteousness? Absolutely!! God's longing for the world to be set right is what drove Him to come incarnate to live, die, and rise again. Jesus' life was for the righteousness of God to fill up the creation. God's love is such that He loves us to perfection, until we are truly righteous, living as we were created to live. God continues to work out His righteousness in and through Christ until all will be right everywhere.

It seems to me that this hungering, rather than being satisfied in this fallen world, grows in us as we grow towards maturity in Christ. More and more we mourn over every word, gesture or relationship that is not all that it should be. We mourn over the pain we humans cause each other and the creation and find the longing to see the life, joy, blessing that comes with righteousness grow more and more intense.

How can we stand being meek and hungering for righteousness in a world that respects, honors, or seeks neither? Because Jesus says that we will inherit the earth. We are freed to be meek because He holds on to our inheritance. We are freed to hunger for righteousness because someday we will be satisfied. Satisfied means sated, full up. We will loose this longing with its complete and total satisfaction. Someday we will live in the freedom that total righteousness will bring. Isn't that a wonderful thought? God not only longs for this, but He will bring it about in Christ. While we still see the injustice, pain, and evil of sin now, we can choose to live by the truth, the hope that someday we will finally see all set right. God will bring His work to completion. We can count on Him in the midst of the unrighteousness of our current circumstances. Hallelujah!

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