Below is an edited version of my sermon for this Sunday, focusing on Matthew 5:5-6.
It’s in passages like the Beatitudes in which we see how much Jesus’ teaching undermines popular truth.
We live in a society which views a desire to wield power as a worthy calling. This understanding also acknowledges sacrifices of both ethics and morality to achieve power are a reasonable price to pay in order to gain a seat at power’s table. It is the powerful who “get things done.” Therefore, if we want to get things done, one needs to be as close to power as one can possibly get. In our current election cycle we see this embrace of power happening before our eyes.
A good many Christians are brushing off the vile and nonsensical behavior of Donald Trump, lost in his promises of power and influence. In so doing we have seen Christians leaders like Jerry Falwell Jr. & James Dobson abandon their claims of election’s past, which demanded only moral Christian people were acceptable as president.
It’s movement is seen in the Democratic arena as well. Hillary Clinton has been invited to preach in churches as barely disguised campaign stops. And she is equally trumpeted among believers who feel a more progressive movement is what God wants for the country – despite some serious warning flags regarding her integrity. Whether progressive or conservative, Christians are siding up to power in order to make certain when the chips fall their voices will be heard and their agenda implemented.
Jesus will have none of it. Instead, he says the meek will inherit the earth 1. With this statement Jesus pulls the rug out from the argument for a Christian to pursue the coattails of worldly power.
Now, “meek” is often objected to in our culture as wishy-washy and unassertive. But meek does not mean “doormat.” Rather, it refers to someone who is unassuming. That is to say they are not self-promoting, nor are they infatuated with the trappings of privilege. Can meek people still point out injustice? Certainly. Do meek people need to accept abuse heaped on them and never say, “This is not OK?” Of course not. Being “meek” does not mean being a victim. Nor does it mean sitting back while other people are victimized. It’s an understanding when we stand before God’s throne “smelling ourselves” is not a good idea.
It’s interesting to note the earliest extra-canonical Christian writing we have, called the “Didache” contains a direct reference to Matthew 5:5. This book was probably an early Christian discipleship tool written around the year 100, and in it’s third chapter the unknown author says “…be humble 2, for the humble shall inherit the earth 3.” This direct reference is then followed by some exposition on what it means to be humble/meek. And it wonderfully reveals the attitude our early brothers and sisters in Christ had about their relationship with power. Being “meek” meant not associating with lofty, and refraining from either becoming arrogant about one’s position or exalting oneself in shameless self promotion. In short, it is the opposite of the current Christian penchant to court those who wield cultural power. Jesus’ words were something on to which our early brothers and sisters vigorously held.
And there is something significant about the meek which is worth pondering. The deepest desire of someone who is meek isn’t power, or security, authority, or wealth. It’s righteousness, the establishment of right relationships between everything in the created order one to another, and between the created order and the God who made all things. Because this what a meek person must inevitably “hunger and thirst” for, Jesus offers them a wonderful blessing. Their desire will be satisfied.
You see, there’s something interesting about power. Both the desire to obtain and the desire to hold on to it can do terrible damage to our souls. When we seek power, we begin to discover enemies. Throughout history, enemies have been labeled as sub-human, a threat to societal stability, and as objects worthy only to receive vengeance.
In our country we’ve seen this happen over and over, and I’m not speaking only of the national level. This past week Governor Christie of New Jersey had a criminal summons issued against him over “Bridgegate,” which was a political reprisal against someone who’d slighted the governor’s office. In the past few months Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, the person who is supposed see the law upheld, was indicted on charges of criminal conspiracy and perjury 4. Many of the actions with which she was charged came from her desire to punish her political enemies.
This is, sadly, what happens when we become infatuated with our own status. In the halls of political power – and all the way down to our local churches, clubs, and civic organizations – people who fight their way to the top inevitably try to clear the field of all challengers. They think then they’ll be satisfied. The problem is, there’s always another challenger. So the search for satisfaction becomes an endless game of “king of the hill.” And satisfaction never comes.
Contrast the desire for power and control with Jesus’ words. People who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” have ceded all authority to the Lamb who sits on the throne — the Lord Jesus Christ. And, because of this, when new people enter our field of view we don’t see challengers to our grasp on power. After all, we don’t have any power on which to grasp! Rather, we see people for whom Jesus has died, and who bear God’s image. Rather than try to defeat them as threats, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness instead seek to invite strangers to experience the “joy of the Lord.”
This is how the Church grew in the first centuries of it’s existence. The earliest Christians were a minority of a minority religion, Judaism. But they didn’t keep to themselves. They held no power, nor did they have hopes of obtaining it. And they did suffer under Roman hostility. But they thrived. They saw in the strangers of the Roman Empire the very people for whom Christ came to earth — Roman officials, slaves, women 5, Jews, pagans, and even barbarians were invited to experience the incredible fruits which Jesus’ teaching and sacrifice had borne into the world. And, despite being politically and militarily powerless, the Church grew. Through Rome, and beyond its borders, the Gospel of Jesus Christ declared, “The meek would inherit the earth.”
And there is absolutely no reason why it cannot be so today. May we remember to be meek in this world, hungering and thirsting for the only desire which can ever truly be filled — the establishment of righteousness. And may the church of Jesus Christ grow, not so we can wield power, but so we can demonstrate a much more satisfying virtue in this world.
- Matthew 5:6 ↩
- This is the same word used in Matthew 5:6 for meek ↩
- Didache 3:7 ↩
- Among other things. ↩
- Women are part of this list because in the Roman era women were simply to do what their husbands told them. The early evangelists, however, saw women as beings worthy of hearing the Gospel as full persons. ↩