February 29, 2012: The Eighth Day of Lent
February 29, 2012 § Leave a comment
“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” ~ Matthew 5.4 ~
The Beatitudes continue with another somewhat paradoxical statement. In our time, it is easy to think of earthly control and power as matters of politics and warfare – arenas where cutthroat backstabbing and ruthless power plays reign. However, Jesus clearly thinks differently. We’ll have to dig a bit deeper to understand.
The word “gentle” used here is another problematic word to translate. Many people are familiar with it in this passage as, “meek;” unfortunately, this word also does not carry the full meaning. Given the context of the passage and the poetic progression that Christ employs here, it does make some sense to associate the “gentle” with those who have recognized their own spiritual poverty and have been mourning and repenting. This recognition and repentance then spills over into how the penitent citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven treats others – gently, meekly. Having recognized one’s own frailty, and seeing the brokenness of others, one then treats others gently and properly, allowing oneself to be a channel of grace that ministers to others. The idea of gentleness should not be associated with powerlessness; far from it. The example of Christ demonstrates this; cleansing the temple, besting foes in debate, not to mention healing and delivering people from illness and oppression – all these speak of a person of great power. We also remember Christ welcoming children, having a heart-to-heart conversation with Nicodemus at night, and allowing himself to be led to the cross. It may be best to think of “meekness” here as “power under control.” (Shelton, LitSNTC, 152.) This power is used to free and redeem others from their broken state – not to oppress and enslave.
For us to understand the phrase, “inherit the earth,” we must place ourselves in 1st-century Jewish shoes. All through Israel’s history through the time of Christ, the idea of holy land has been predominant. Moses and Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land. After the Babylonian and Assyrian captivity, the Israelites returned from exile and rejoiced to be back in their homeland. Now, their homeland is under military occupation; common sense says to fight fire with fire, and take back the land that rightfully belongs to them. We should find it interesting that Christ says that the earth is something to be inherited, not conquered. The words of David in Psalm 24 tell us plainly: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” The gentle do not conquer. Rather, God gives the earth to whom he pleases.
As Christians, it helps us here to have a proper understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven. When Christ began his ministry on earth, the Kingdom of Heaven began. However, the Kingdom will not be completed in perfection until Christ comes again. Therefore, we are living in the in-between; the “already-not yet,” as some call it. The Kingdom has already come, but it is not yet complete. As Christians, our task is to carry on the ministry of Christ, empowered by his Holy Spirit which lives in us. We anticipate the earth being truly and completely redeemed at the time of Christ’s second coming. But in the meantime, it is our task to share the Gospel and be agents of redemption wherever we find ourselves. When Christ comes, the Kingdom of Heaven will be made complete and whole, and its citizens will be gentle.
The citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven exercise power in appropriate ways by standing up for those who are oppressed and disadvantaged, while treating those who are injured and hurting with great love and care. This Beatitude challenges us to consider how we treat others. Do we use the power that we have been given appropriately? Do we see others as ends to means, pawns in our plans of success and grandeur? Or do we see people as inconveniences, stumbling blocks to be cast aside and ignored? Christ says this: God’s grace working through our brokenness and repentance changes how we treat others. The Kingdom of Heaven is filled with those who treat others with grace.
Lord Christ, I confess that I have fallen short in my relationships and interactions. My actions are not filled with your grace, and sometimes, my thoughts even less so. Help me to respond to the direction of your Spirit when engaging others. Point out to me the ways that I abuse and take advantage, as small as they may be. Help me to exercise my power and abilities in gentle, proper ways. Amen.