Do The Meek Inherit the Earth?

By: Dr. Gregory S. Neal

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:5 NRSV)

The Sermon on the Mount, as found in chapters 5 through seven of Matthew’s Gospel, is one of the most powerful, memorable, and beautiful collections of Jesus' teachings. This is especially true of the portion of the Sermon on the Mount usually called "The Beatitudes."

These words resonate in our souls; they speak to us of what it means to be a Disciple of Jesus Christ and a child of the living God. They teach us about how we are to live within the Kingdom of God here, today, manifested within the Church. They don’t express some kind of a utopian ideal for an existence which is yet to come, but rather call us to a way of life, and a devotion to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is real and present even today. This is especially true for the ‘oft quoted beatitude: "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."

At first glance this seems like a ludicrous statement, doesn’t it? One of my favorite quips – a favorite because it reflects the cynical thinking of most people on this subject – picks up on how absurd the thought truly is to modern thinking:

"The meek do inherit the earth, but they tend to inherit very small plots, about six feet by three." (Robert A. Heinlein)

This is the world’s thinking. The Meek are losers. They are worthless. They only get in the way, and need to be pushed aside by those with the ambition and drive to succeed. In the words of Mordred, the half-brother of King Arthur in Camelot: "it’s not the earth the meek inherit, it’s the dirt." According to this present evil age the meek are not a people to be looked upon as being especially blessed by God. According to Jesus, however, the meek are truly blessed; it is they – not the movers and the shakers, but the meek – who will inherit the earth.

So, it behooves us to ask a simple question: "Who are the meek?" Are they the quiet, weak, unobtrusive, mild-mannered and mild-thinking and mild-hearted people of this world? The world would have us think that, in order to be one of these of whom Christ speaks, we must be "milk-toast." However, the world is wrong.

The popular mental image of a "meek" person is fundamentally flawed. The "meek" are not those who are weak, mild, or quiet. Yes, the meek of whom Christ speaks are truly quiet before God, conscious of their total dependence upon God for their salvation, but they are not mild in the ways of God and they are most certainly not "milk-toast." They are alive with a drive, a passion, and a burning love for the Will, Word, and Kingdom of God.

The Greek word translated into English as "meek" was used in the ancient equestrian world to speak of horses which have been tamed for humans to ride. They are not weak, mild, powerless, or lacking in spirit. Anyone who has ever ridden a horse will agree that they are majestic, powerful animals who’s energies and passions have been harnessed under the firm hand of a master. They don’t lose their ability to run for hours or pull heavy loads; they are intensely devoted to their master’s will.

This is what it means for us to be the meek who inherit the earth: we are not deprived of our abilities, strength, vision, or spirit, nor do we lose our individual distinctiveness; rather, all of our God-given talents and energies are directed by the Holy Spirit. The meek are those who have been tamed by God. They are devoted to service in the Kingdom of God, meek before the Master but bold in their proclamation of the Gospel to the world. And, my friends, this is what each and every one of us has been called to do in our ministry. We are called to be the "meek of God," serving our Lord with all our passions, energies, intelligence, and spirit under the mastery of Jesus Christ.

Yes, the meek do inherit the earth – they inherit the new earth which Jesus is bringing, and which he has for us to build and live within. Praise be to God!

© 2005, Dr. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved

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The Reverend Dr. Gregory S. Neal is the Senior Pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Commerce, Texas, and an ordained Elder in the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, Duke University, and Trinity College, Dr. Neal is a scholar of Systematic Theology, New Testament origins, and Biblical Languages. His areas of specialization include the Theology of the Sacraments, in which he did his doctoral dissertation, and the formation and early transmission of the New Testament. Trained as a Christian educator, he has taught classes in these and related fields while also serving for more than 25 years as the pastor of United Methodist churches in North Texas.

As a popular teacher, preacher, and retreat leader, Dr. Neal is known for his ability to translate complex theological concepts into common, everyday terms. HIs preaching and teaching ministry is in demand around the world, and much of his work can be found on this website. He is the author of several books, including
Grace Upon Grace: Sacramental Theology and the Christian Life, which is in its second edition, and Seeking the Shepherd's Arms: Reflections from the Pastoral Side of Life, a work of devotional literature. Both of these books are currently available from Amazon.com.