The reading for Sunday, February 12, 2017:
Matthew 5:5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."
Here again, we see an inversion, a way that Christ tells us that the world of the kingdom of God is very different than the world of the empire that surrounded early listeners. In Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, Why He Did, and Why He Matters, N. T. Wright explains the Beatitudes this way: "The Beatitudes are the agenda for kingdom people. They are not simply about how to behave so that God will do something nice to you. They are about the way in which Jesus wants to rule the world. He wants to do it through this sort of people--people, actually, just like himself (read the Beatitudes again and see. . . . When God wants to change the world, he doesn't send in the tanks. He sends in the meek, the mourners, those who are hungry and thirsty for God's justice, the peacemakers, and so on" (page 218, italics in original).
These types of people are not the ones endorsed by most of the world. Spend a night watching television and contemplate what it says about our culture. We don't see many messages that remind us to be meek, to hunger for justice, to work for peace, to be pure in heart. No, we're supposed to dance with stars, or sing for a panel of harsh judges, or watch dramas about ghastly criminals.
Watch those in power and contemplate how rarely we see the meek speaking from a position of authority, as if they inherited the earth. No, it's the other types of people who gobble up all the air in the room. They're the ones who seem to have it all: money, fame, access to anyone they want in any way they want.
Those of us who have studied history may feel bleak, as if it's always been that way. But God's way is not the world's way. And sometimes, we see an interesting glimpse of what God might mean.
I want to remember times when it seemed like no progress could ever be made, and then, voila, history changed in what seemed like a flash: the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, for example, or Nelson Mandela being set free.
Those who are younger than I am might not realize how huge that event was for me and many other activists. Apartheid seemed like a government system that had existed forever, an entrenched evil that had a deathgrip on the country--likewise, the Soviet Union.
And then, it vanished, and a much more humane system evolved. It's still far from perfect, but it's better than the old system.
Much of the reason why these systems crumbled was because of the meek, not the powerful. Part of what set the stage for the crumbling of these systems is that people acted as if they were already free. I'm thinking of Vaclav Havel and his group of writers and artists, who refused to stop creating, just because the State told them they must. I think of Nelson Mandela, who spent his decades in prison not plotting revenge but dreaming about the best ways to govern. When he was released and elected president, he was ready with plans for creating a better South Africa.
My historical analysis is much too brief, but it's what comes to mind when I read about the meek inheriting the earth.
That’s the way redemption works—not in the ways we would expect, but in surprising ways that take us where we could not dream of going, and sometimes faster than we would expect. If we could travel back in time to tell the people of 1985 that the Soviet Union would soon crumble and South Africa would be free of white rule, the people of 1985 would think we were insane. If we could travel back to the first century of the Roman empire to tell of what the followers of Jesus would accomplish, those people would laugh at us—if they even knew who Jesus was.
We can choose to live as people of God, no matter what our human empires would have us believe. We do not have to weep in the ruins of our cities. Jesus has promised us that the new world order will look nothing like the world order that has held us captive for too long.