Have you ever inherited anything? Many years ago, when my grandmother died, she left each of her grandchildren a small inheritance. Nothing to get rich off of—but it helped pay off some debts. A couple of years ago, my stepdad passed away. From him, I inherited the pickup truck that I’m still driving today. Maybe you’re waiting on an inheritance right now, and you feel badly because it’s too hard to wait. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has something to say about inheritance—but what he has to say may surprise you.
Jesus might have initiated a discussion about inheritance while standing on the steps of some great financial institution. Or, if he had talked about it in front of Herod’s palace, that would have made an impact. But instead, Jesus took his followers on a field trip to a place where there was no wealth to be seen anywhere. There, on a grassy mountainside, beneath rolling clouds, Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth Matthew 5:5 NIV).”
This had to be the last thing his hearers expected. “Blessed are the meek?” They were accustomed to powerful landowners ruthlessly acquiring and defending property and money, amassing fortunes and creating dynasties. But here, Jesus says you’re blessed if you’re meek? It wasn’t what they were used to hearing.
Ironically, this Greek word that is often translated as meek, gentle, and humble, almost sounds like proud in English. Praus is a hard-to-translate word that people often mistake for weakness. But instead, meekness means “strength under control.” Jesus says if you want an inheritance for yourself or your children, you don’t have to step on people to get it. You don’t have to ruthlessly defend what you have, or greedily hoard more and more. Jesus’ plan was greater than the world’s plan. Jesus said, “Just practice meekness, and your inheritance will be on its way.”
Micah 6:8 (NIV) tells how to gain this inheritance: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” This is the basic recipe for meekness. None of these things are weak—all of them require strength, under control. Justice demands you do it, whether it’s convenient or not. Mercy requires that you be in a position of strength, to demonstrate it. And humility means you know who you are in Christ, without either false bravado on the one hand or self-effacement on the other. When you practice justice, mercy, and humility, you develop meekness that is power under control. And Jesus promised that the meek will inherit the earth.
Again, don’t misconstrue the meaning of meekness. One person who misunderstood this was…
J. Upton Dickson [who] was a fun-loving fellow who said he was writing a book entitled Cower Power. He also founded a group of submissive people. It was called DOORMATS. That stands for "Dependent Organization Of Really Meek And Timid Souls -- if there are no objections." Their motto was: "The meek shall inherit the earth -- if that's okay with everybody." They symbol was the yellow traffic light.[i]
If we understand that meekness is not weakness, then when we read Jesus’ statement that the meek shall inherit the earth, we do not see him switching on the yellow light. Jesus was anything but a cautious doormat. Instead, he was the one who rebuked storms, overturned tables, and pillaged hell to emerge with its keys in hand. Meekness doesn’t mean weakness—it means being strong, but using that strength only for God’s glory and never for your own. I’m reminded of a time when Jesus’ disciples asked him to call down fire from heaven on a village that refused to listen to their teaching. Jesus rebuked them, saying, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them (Luke 9:55-56 NASB).” This is the spirit of meekness that Jesus demonstrated, and the spirit he blesses—to have power yet choose to be gentle. Jesus says there is an inheritance for people like this, who choose gentleness over ruthlessness. They will inherit the earth.
Now, you might say, “Who wants to inherit the earth, with the state that it’s in?” A lot of people inherit things they don’t want. My brother says, “I inherited those big, copper, octagonal wall hangings with authors in them. Shakespeare and somebody else that I can’t remember. They used to hang in Grandma’s old house. Apparently, I must have commented on them once. Now they’re living in my basement and, every so often, I wonder what their metal value might be.”
Some inheritances you don’t want, and don’t even like. But I promise you’ll like this one. The meek shall inherit the earth. Now, don’t read this like you’re reading the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, where Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth. Yes, the Greek word gé can be translated as earth, but I don’t believe in this context it means the whole earth and its kingdoms. Gé can also mean land, as in a country—but meekness doesn’t go hand in hand with inheriting a country, does it? No, Jesus must mean something different. Gé also mean land, as in tracts of land. Now we’re getting closer, because land can be farmed, and it can be made fruitful—and Jesus wants us to be fruitful. But the problem is that this idea leads us back to the notion of inheriting property. But gé can mean one more thing, and that’s dirt. I believe Jesus was saying, “The meek shall inherit the soil.” And I don’t think he means physical soil, either. It’s not an earthly inheritance, like a kingdom or land. Instead, it’s a fertile, loamy quality that you cultivate in your soul, simply by practicing meekness.
The meek shall become earthy. Down to earth. Humble—like humus, or dirt. The meek aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty for the sake of helping others. The meek will be made fertile. Out of meekness, good things grow. Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God—and this will turn you into the kind of person God can use. It’s not an inheritance you can get rich off of, but it will make your heart into good, rich, soil.