Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Beatitudes we read in the Gospel this weekend are rightly compared with the Ten Commandments. Just as Moses went up Mt. Sinai and received from God the two stone tablets with the Law written on them, so Jesus goes up the mountain and teaches the Beatitudes to the crowd. Moses was the messenger entrusted to bring the law from God to the people. While Jesus is certainly a messenger, we can also see that his way of conveying the message is different than that of Moses. When Jesus goes up the mountain, notice that Matthew’s Gospel tells us he sat down. To sit and speak is a sign of authority (this is why during Mass, only a bishop sits when preaching). Jesus speaks from a place of authority. Moses carried stone tablets which had the message etched on them by God’s own hand. But Jesus, seated on the mountain, gives no such tablets. Not only is His message different…Jesus IS the message.
If the 10 Commandments are relatively unremarkable (we take them somewhat for granted as they are, in fact, the foundation for our civil law and seem rather fundamental to living a decent human life), the Beatitudes may cause some head scratching. It seems odd to our ears to hear that those who mourn are blessed or happy, and downright scandalous to think that it is a good thing to be persecuted or hated just because we believe in Jesus. Yet that is exactly what Jesus tells us. Perhaps strangest to our ears is the phrase, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.” Meek? Really? Our common usage of the word today would suggest someone with no spine, someone easily dominated, someone weak, a wimp.
But if we look into the way the word was used in the time of Jesus, we will see a very different concept. The word “meek” in English comes from the Norse “mjukr” meaning “gentle.” In Greek, the language of Matthew’s Gospel, the word is rendered “praus,” meaning “humble.” But even this fails to really capture the usage of the word. For this word is best applied, not to our common understanding of humility, but to horses. And not just any horse: WAR horses. “To meek” a warhorse meant to break it, but breaking a horse, as we know, does not mean to destroy it. Rather, the horse becomes docile to the commands of its rider. The docility necessary in a warhorse (and it helps to remember that not all horses can carry someone into the chaos of battle) is described by the word “meek.” The warhorse both submits to and obeys its rider, and understands its duty to follow commands, even those that lead it into danger. It is a submission and gentleness that requires the utmost strength and character. It is noble and strong, a powerful trait and the very opposite of weakness. It is the meek, Jesus says, who will inherit the earth. And therein lies our final clue to understanding this strange line from the Beatitudes. Moses went up Mt. Sinai and brought to Israel the law of God’s covenant. If Israel followed the law, God would give them the Promised Land as their inheritance. To follow the law means to submit to an authority higher than oneself, to be docile to the will of God. Obedience to the 10 Commandments requires me to be in control of myself, my passions, my preferences. Strength is required to follow the law of God, even if the 10 Commandments do not surprise us very much. In fact, obedience to the law requires us to be meek. And if we keep the law, if we are meek, Jesus says, we will inherit the land. Not just the Promised Land, and in fact, we can safely understand not an earthly territory. Rather, we will inherit the new heavens and the new earth that God will give us in eternity.
I cannot consider meekness without thinking of this wonderful scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. May we be meek enough to follow Jesus, The Message, the great authority seated on the mountain, the King who calls us into life.
“Is–is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he–quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver. “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”