“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
What exactly is meekness? The New Oxford American Dictionary on my computer tells me that the word meek means “quiet, gentle, and easily imposed upon; submissive.” These are not qualities that our culture holds in high-esteem.
Take “quiet” for example. Susan Cain’s excellent book Quiet mentioned several sociological studies which concluded that companies are more likely to hire loud, outspoken, and outgoing individuals even if their ideas were worse than their quieter coworkers. We value loud people: people who are able to speak out and speak their minds, even if there isn’t much on their minds to begin with. For example:
“In one experiment in which two strangers met over the phone, those who spoke more were considered more intelligent, better looking, and more likable. We also see talkers as leaders. The more a person talks, the more other group members direct their attention to him, which means that he becomes increasingly powerful as the meeting goes on. It also helps to speak fast; we rate quick talkers as more capable and appealing than slow talkers. All of this would be fine if more talking were correlated with greater insight, but research suggest there’s no such link” (Cain, p. 51).
If you haven’t read Susan Cain’s book, I highly recommend it. She provides many more studies and examples of this phenomenon than I have time for here, but the point is that loud people are often given more power and influence than quiet people. They are listened to more. They are awarded better opportunities and promotions.
Yet, here, in Jesus’s sermon, the quiet are blessed by God.
I know I’m taking liberties with the English translations. I am no Greek scholar, though I hope I have the chance to learn the language someday. But I have a hunch that the word “meek” implies not just “one who is able to submit” but “a submissive person.” The first acts from some agency outside of a quality of submission, the second inhabits the quality of submission. See the difference? The choice of whether or not to submit (submit to what? to whom?) does not apply.
Like the poor in spirit, we are looking not at humbleness as some ideal state to which we should all strive, but what is already inside a person. Blessed are those who can’t get a leg-up on the competition. Blessed are those who just are gentle, quiet, easily imposed upon, and submissive. It doesn’t matter the reason. I’ll bet people like that came to Jesus because Jesus gave them dignity without first demanding of them that they win the popularity contest. Maybe we should translate it not as “blessed are the door mats” but “blessed are those who have been walked on, even while doing everything in their power to avoid being a door-mat.”
As a parent, I get angry sometimes at my kids. I get angry at life. I get angry sometimes just because I’m tired and irritated and hungry, and probably I just need a nap. I get rushed, and upset, and worked up, and beat down, and depressed, and fly into all kinds of emotional states, and then I demand order and structure when it comes to the emotional tirades of my children. “Why can’t you just calm down? Stop crying! Come back to me when you can talk to me in a calm way.” Yep, I’ve said them all. There’s usually a big plank in my eye.
I could use a little more quiet around my kids. I could use a little more gentleness around my kids. I could open the door, turn off the phone, shut down the computer, close the book, put down the power-tool, and allow myself to be imposed upon by my kids. I could be a little more submissive to their needs, and ultimately to God as the one who owns my children, instead of demanding my own way in my parental hypocrisy. I could listen to them a little bit more.
Here, in Jesus’s sermon, the meek are blessed by God.
Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. (Broadway Books, 2012). Amazon Link: http://a.co/drf9cQ9