“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land” (Mt 5:5).
The Beatitudes are perhaps the most beautiful and compelling part of the Gospel. They are poetic and inspiring, yet enigmatic and confusing.
Among the virtuous characteristics praised in the beatitudes, the most misunderstood is probably gentleness.
For the most part, we understand the essentials of poverty of spirit, of mourning, of seeking justice, of mercy, of purity of heart, of peace, and even, to some extent, of being persecuted for doing what’s right, but yearning for meekness isn’t on many to-do lists.
And what a vague reward is it to inherit the land?
The way we think of gentleness is often in terms of weakness, a certain shyness, a fear of assertion, a preference to withdraw or stay put. It is not biblical meekness as manifested by Jesus, which is a certain coolness, a meekness of spirit.
To fully grasp this, let’s take a closer look at Jesus who set aside the power and privilege of divinity to assume our humanity. He could have simply appeared on the human scene as a triumphant Messiah, but that wouldn’t have done much for us.
We would have been redeemed, yes, of course, but you and I would have learned nothing of the tragedy of sin and God’s merciful love. We needed to see history played out in our humanity by a man like us.
A God became man — the magnificence of God took on human flesh to dwell among us. He came as a child, lived our ordinary life, shared our labor and died our death in a supreme act of gentleness.
He who healed the paralytic and raised the dead certainly could have given little thought to his enemies, but it was a mission of mercy (another name for true meekness).
Children are often seen as gentle, but true gentleness is defined by self-control; it speaks of what we possess.
We like to invent superheroes and assume their personalities to experience their superhuman powers – to escape our own natural weakness.
How we seem to be unaware that Jesus Christ has already been there and done this – as one of us, and best of all, he allows us to live in his image, to possess his power through our incorporation into him at baptism. Part of this power of Christ is meekness.
Bullying at all levels of society can be countered with gentleness. Rather than lashing out at irritation or insult, meeks rely on positive energy that strengthens the nerves and calms the mind.
Gentleness is total commitment, calm, strength and self-control. The meek appreciate who they themselves are. This means not only mastering strong inclinations, like anger and greed, but also mastering our weaker inclinations like displeasure and dissipation.
As I explain in my book, Blessed Are the Stressed: Secrets to a Happy Heart from a Crabby Mystic, gentleness is more like the martial art of the soul, the black belt of spiritual life. When we are meek and humble of heart, as Jesus said of himself (Mt 11:29), we flex those invisible muscles of the human spirit. We are in possession of ourselves.
This brings us to reflect on the second part of this bliss which assures us that if we are meek, we will inherit the earth. I prefer to talk about inheriting the “earth” because in Genesis we see God bringing the first man out of the earth.
Then, at the end of life, we will be consigned to the earth. The Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds us: “remember that you are dust and to dust you will return”. This realization will keep our hearts humble and our minds meek.
Most of us will at some point inherit at least one piece of land, or some of the earth’s possessions. We may even receive a monetary inheritance. And we know that a legacy must be claimed. We have to show up and say, “Yes, it’s me, and so it’s mine!”
In the Old Testament, to say that we will inherit the earth refers to the Promised Land; in the New Testament, it is the kingdom of the just. The church fathers claim that our body is this earth. “We will inherit our own bodies” – strange to say since we already own our bodies.
But we must admit that we are in constant search of self-mastery, to discover our identity, who we are and how to be the best of ourselves. We must therefore act with integrity, develop our mind like an athlete who has control and coordination of his body.
We inherit the Christlikeness that is meant to be ours through our baptism into Christ. You are our inheritance, oh Lord.
And it is not a once-and-for-all state of being – bliss speaks in continuous terms – that the meek will possess, but like any virtue we must labor at it and carry on the good fight until our land becomes the new heavens and the new earth.
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(A member of the Daughters of St. Paul since 1964, Sister Mary Lea Hill has engaged in various apostolic activities, from film production to her current position as author and editor at Pauline Books and Media. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @ mystical crab.)