July 31, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Matthew 5:5 (NIV)
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Jesus challenges us to a steely commitment to his way of life that is matched with a gentleness in the way we relate to others.
The Beatitudes begin with Jesus resetting and reversing human expectations. Going back to God’s intentions from the beginning, he reminds us that human beings are created to live in lifelong vulnerability before God and one another. And he hints at a three-fold restoration awaiting those who mourn the reality of our current condition – the healing of our personal brokenness, the right functioning of the world we inhabit, and the fulfillment of humanity’s vocation as the “lead servants” of the world. It’s the last of these restorations that I want to explore further in the third Beatitude.
In the creation narrative, human beings were given responsibility for the earth. As the psalmist reminds us, “You have given (them) dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under (their) feet” (Psalm 8:6, ESV). In our autonomy-seeking culture, it’s worth noting that such responsibility is a delegated one. Human beings are not meant to do whatever they want. Human beings, while having great freedom, live in an accountable relationship with the One Who gave them that responsibility. Even more profoundly, they have a vocation deeply imprinted in their identity: to live and work as visible representations of the invisible God.
In the imagery of diplomacy, we are meant to be God’s ambassadors. Great ambassadors not only carry out their government’s policies, but they embody – in their person and actions – the kind of government they represent. For better or for worse, ambassadors are the country they represent in the world in which they live and work.
And that brings us to today’s text.
In the third Beatitude, Jesus tells us what kind of government he (and by implication we) represent. It signals to us what “the kingdom of heaven” looks like. And while Jesus’ words are astonishingly countercultural, their roots are deep in the biblical narrative. Perhaps for that reason, Matthew’s record of Jesus’ words – “the meek … will inherit the earth” – are almost identical with that found in the ancient Greek translation of Psalm 37, verse 11.
The same Greek word for “meek” (pareis) in this Beatitude is used by Matthew in his record of Jesus’ self-description at the end of Matthew 11, which is translated by many English versions as “gentle”; Jesus speaks of himself as being “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29, NIV). That’s not only a description of the human person named Jesus of Nazareth, but it’s also an arresting revelation of the divine character of God and the “kingdom of heaven.”
Finding out that the “meek” will inherit the earth is enough of a surprise. Finding out that the all-powerful God who created the universe is “meek” is nothing less than earth-shattering.
Since so much depends on it, what might Jesus have meant by being “meek”? Many Christian interpreters have argued that being meek, in the biblical sense, is not the same as being weak. Biblical meekness, they would argue, is strength with self-restraint. There is a sense in which that is true. Certainly, as Jesus himself demonstrated, meekness is not intrinsically weak. As Jesus said about his impending sacrifice on the cross, “No one takes (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again” (John 10:18, NRSV).
But there is a different sense in which biblical meekness includes weakness. Psalm 37, which Jesus is quoting, addresses the poor and oppressed who – unlike Jesus – couldn’t do anything about it. Instead, they are encouraged to continue to look to God for their deliverance and hope. Indeed, the Hebrew word behind “meek” in 37:11 can be translated as “weak,” “poor,” and “oppressed.” Jesus does teach and model a “meekness” that is a voluntary embrace of weakness for the sake of others. But, in today’s Beatitude, he also reminds those who are in a state of being weak, poor or oppressed to have hope that “a future awaits those who seek peace” (Psalm 37:37, NIV).
Meekness is not fatalistic acceptance of our lot, nor – even worse – simply giving in to evil as a fact of life. Instead, meekness acknowledges our weakness but places our trust and hope in the God who is just and faithful. And it encourages us to persevere with patience and longsuffering in the way of Jesus, both in praying and working for God’s justice and in loving those who oppose us.
Perhaps equally important, meekness is about the “tone and touch” of our lives. How do our words and actions come across to others? Jesus challenges us to a steely commitment to his way of life that is matched with a gentleness in the way we relate to others. The Apostle Peter, not exactly a paragon of gentleness in his early discipleship, learned that well and says it this way, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, NIV). Meekness, gentleness and humility are a cluster of words that provide slightly different and mutually reinforcing meanings to what Jesus is after in this Beatitude.
So what might all this have to say to those of us in leadership, those of us who are called to be lead servants? On the one hand, it reminds us that we ought to always see ourselves, first of all, as servants of Jesus. As we do our work, our trust and our hope are in God and not in ourselves and our ability to outsmart, outwork, or outmaneuver our opponents. Resonating deeply with the first Beatitude, we serve and lead with a profound vulnerability towards God. And if we forget, the many challenges and difficulties of our life and work will serve as daily reminders of that reality.
On the other hand, this Beatitude reminds us that our “tone and touch” are essential to our witness as leaders. In the words of the Apostle Peter, we of all people need to have our leadership words and actions characterized by “gentleness and respect.” Given the many contentious cultural issues of our day, ones which many of us have passionate convictions about, this is not an easy word to hear and obey.
But this is Jesus’ kingdom and not ours. The question for us is whether we will be his faithful ambassadors or whether we will betray his kingdom by the tone of our words and the touch of our actions. Will we “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23:13, NIV)? Or will we be “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29, NIV)? The king and kingdom we serve is, as Jesus himself declares, the Dominion of the Meek. May we be found his faithful ambassadors.
What would it mean in practice for someone to be a “meek leader”?
Psalm 37 is a rich and wise resource for those of us who want to understand how to live as faithful ambassadors of Jesus’ kingdom. Take time this week to read and reflect on this Psalm. Note and practice the instructions that the psalm provides.
Lord Jesus Christ,
We struggle with how to live out your kingdom in our lives. We so easily fret about others who thrive by taking shortcuts. We become envious of those who blatantly disregard the well-being of others yet seem to prosper in doing so. As the psalmist taught us, help us to trust in you and do what is right. Help us to commit our way to you, to be still and wait for you to act, rather than taking matters into our own hands.
Help us to speak and act with gentleness and respect with all those we are called to serve.
We ask in your name. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Good Samaritan at Work—Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself (Luke 10:25-37)
During his adult life, Uli Chi has lived and worked in the intersection between business, the academy and the church. He has had the privilege of serving as past Board Chair of Regent College in Vancouver, BC, as current Vice Chair of the Board of the Max De Pree Leadership Center at Fuller Seminary, and as current Chair of the Executive Committee of the Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University. He has also been involved in all aspects of local church leadership, including as a member of the adult ministries team’s teaching faculty at John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle.
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