Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
-Matthew 5:3-12 (NIV)
At a speech on the campus of Michigan State University this past week, a white supremacist contradicted Jesus.
I don’t mean he contradicted Jesus’ teaching (though he did), or that his attitude toward others contradicted the love of Jesus (though it certainly did). I mean a statement that he made actually nullified Jesus’ literal words.
I don't want to give Richard Spencer’s actual words enough space to give them any context. Suffice to say that the line in question was about creating a “movement” in the world. (Insert whatever jokes you wish…) You can read more about what he said here, if you’re so inclined. At any rate, the line I really paid attention to was this one:
“I have never gained anything in my life or my career by watering it down to be just a little bit more palatable. The meek shall never inherit the earth. ... People who are bold and strong will always dominate.”
I don’t know how impressed Jesus would be that a white supremacist doesn't agree with him. Something tells me it wouldn’t keep him up nights.
Here’s the thing, though: I’m guessing that a lot of people who wouldn’t want to be caught agreeing with a white supremacist would actually find it difficult to argue with him about that particular statement: “The meek shall never inherit the earth.”
Look around you. In how many fields do you see the meek rising to the top? We don’t even know what to do with that word, meek. We don’t much even use it, and when we do it’s an insult. It’s reserved for the people who can’t or won’t fight for what they want. It’s for the people who are walked over by the ones headed for success. The bullied who never fight back — they’re the meek. They’re the yielding, the compliant, the domesticated, the acquiescent. They don’t protest when their rights are infringed. They don’t speak out or stand up for themselves.
The meek are the people at the office who don’t make a sound when someone takes credit for their work.
The meek are the people at school who no one much pays attention to.
The meek are the people who don’t command attention when they walk into a room.
The meek are the people who work in the background while the more aggressive get all the glory.
Who are the ones who succeed in our world? That's right: the ones who take what they want. The ones who are always driving, pushing, the ones who by sheer force of will and personality move others out of their way. Not the meek. And Richard Spencer is not the only one who thinks so.
Famed Alabama football coach “Bear” Bryant — who got his nickname, apparently, from actually wrestling a bear, suggesting that meekness might not have been a defining characteristic for him — once said, “If the meek are going to inherit the earth, some of my offensive linemen are going to be land barons.” I don’t guess he was necessarily disagreeing with Jesus about the meek inheriting the earth. He just didn’t see how it was going to happen.
So maybe it's difficult even for Jesus’ followers to believe him. The idea of the meek inheriting the earth cuts so against the grain of our culture that it’s hard for us to even fathom what he meant. You just don’t know many meek athletes, entertainers, politicians, or CEOs. The most popular kids at school were probably not meek. Neither are the professionals at the top of their fields, the cops that patrol your neighborhood, the firefighters that protect your home, the soldiers that fight for those at home.
The thing is, in Jesus’ day the meek didn’t inherit the earth either. If anything, his culture emphasized strength and power and ambition even more than does ours.
No, Jesus’ words to those who heard him then were as countercultural and revolutionary as they are to us today. His point through all of the “blesseds” in Matthew (often called the “Beatitudes” after the word for “blessed” in Latin) is that in the Kingdom of God it’s often those who the world would not call blessed that truly are. No one would imagine that the grieving, those in need of justice, the persecuted, the insulted were blessed at all. Yet Jesus says that God has blessings in store for those who can’t go and get them on their own — the “poor in spirit” who, through no fault of their own, seem perpetually shut out from what the world calls blessings.
Because God comforts those who mourn, he fills those who hunger and thirst for justice, he shows himself to the pure in heart and calls the peacemakers his children. His kingdom is for those who are willing to endure persecution as he did. And, yes, those who refuse to makes gods of strength and power and ambition will, in fact, inherit the earth.
That’s not to say there’s never a time for us to speak up for ourselves, or (maybe especially) for those around us. But we follow the One who was led like a lamb to the slaughter and who did not open his mouth to protest. So we know that the way to live is not by stepping on others, but by serving. Not by controlling, but by loving. Not by taking all we can, but by giving all we have.
May we take Jesus’ words seriously. May we learn what it means to trust in his promise that the meek will inherit the earth.
Trust me. You’ll find yourself in much better company.