“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land”
Jesus quotes the Old Testament more often than I realized. This is Psalm 37: 8-11:
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.
Do not fret – it leads only to evil.
For the wicked shall be cut off,
but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look diligently for their place, they will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”
The obvious contrast with the meek are the proud. I love how this Psalm contrasts the meek with the wicked (implicitly connecting pride and wickedness), and compares the meek with those who wait for the Lord.
Jesus described himself as “meek, and humble of heart.” (Matthew 11:29) This can seem like an odd statement at first glance, given that Jesus is the Son of God, and declared that the Father has given all authority to him (Matthew 28:18). But when Jesus says he is meek he is not referring to a kind of false modesty that says, “Aw shucks, I’m no good at nothin’.” Jesus was never false – and even for you or me to make a statement like that would be an insult to God by denying the talents he has blessed us with.
The way Jesus lived Psalm 37 demonstrates what he means by being meek and humble of heart. Did Jesus refrain from anger? Can you imagine being crowned with thorns, spat upon and mocked, with the power to exact any revenge you desired at any moment – and holding back? That’s what Jesus did. Did Jesus wait for the Lord? Can you imagine enduring the agony of the cross and descending to the realm of the dead – of being God’s beloved Son but having to wait for the triumph of the Resurrection? That’s what Jesus did.
When we are poor in spirit and trust completely in God, we can be meek by waiting patiently for the Lord and refraining from anger, knowing that God is perfectly just and perfectly merciful, and in his time is making all things right.
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”
If Jesus calls us to refrain from anger (a theme he will return to later in the Sermon), he is not calling us to be indifferent to the evils of this world. In a way the fourth beatitude expands upon the second (“Blessed are they who mourn”), and counterbalances the third.
Righteousness can refer to obedience to God’s will, and also God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises. (1) Our world is filled with disobedience to God’s will; and not merely occasional disobedience, but willful, defiant disobedience. Remember the movie Wall Street when Gordon Gekko says that “Greed is good”? Greed is one the seven deadly sins (Catechism, 1866). And frankly, you could take any of the seven deadly sins and find sizable numbers of people in modern society who would say that “Pride is good” or “Lust is good” or “Gluttony is good” or “Sloth is good.” It might be expressed a little differently, a little sneakier – something like “Indulge yourself” or “You deserve it” – but it’s the same idea, drawing us away from God, away from holiness.
Jesus uses a very powerful image here, that of hungering and thirsting, to describe how we should want to do God’s will ourselves, and see God’s will done throughout the world (“on earth as it is in heaven”). We should long for God’s will the way we long for dinner after a day of fasting, or a cold drink on a really hot summer day. And while we should wait patiently for the Lord to fulfill his covenant promises, we should be prepared for – and indeed, looking forward to! – the day when Jesus will come again to bring all righteousness to completion. For then our hunger and our thirst will at last be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
Jesus preached often on the importance of forgiveness, and on our forgiveness by God being dependent on whether we forgive our brothers and sisters. Jesus makes this point directly in the Sermon on the Mount when he teaches the disciples the “Our Father”: “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12) Jesus illustrates this point in the parable of the unforgiving debtor, who does not forgive a fellow servant who owes him a small amount, even when his master (God) has forgiven him an unpayable sum. (Matthew 18:21-35)
Mercy and forgiveness are closely related terms. Mercy encompasses forgiveness, of course, but mercy has a broader scope. Saint Thomas Aquinas defined mercy as “the compassion in our hearts for another person’s misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him.” If to be poor in spirit is to recognize our complete dependence on God, to be merciful we need to recognize that everyone else is utterly dependent on God too. In other words, we’re all miserable if we try to go it alone. Out of his infinite mercy God created us from nothing, and out of his infinite mercy God sustains us at every waking moment of our lives. Saint Faustina put it so eloquently when she wrote: “God’s love is the flower – Mercy is the fruit.” (Diary of Saint Faustina, 948) We are nothing and can do nothing without him.
That being the case, we must show great mercy towards each other, recognizing that we are all seeking to know God, longing for the peace and happiness that only he can give, and all struggling against our inclinations to sin that pull us away from God. If we see each other in this way, forgiving each other always, loving each other, and encouraging each other to grow in holiness, then we are being merciful, and then God will bestow his mercy on us.
(1) Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2010. p. 90.
Image: Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).