By Kristin Berkey-Abbott
When I first read the Beatitude text that talked about the meek inheriting the earth, my thoughts went immediately to the traditional definition of meek: the ones that keep their eyes down, the ones that don't toot their own horns, the ones that will let themselves get bulldozed by the strong--the ones that will suffer brutality and take it.
But later in this same chapter of Matthew, we'll get to the part about turning the other cheek. Here, too, I was taught that I was reading a text advocating non-violence. But a more careful reading and analysis suggests something else.
These are resistance texts. Yes, resistance texts.
These are texts that show us how to resist evil in such a way that evil elements will not turn around and destroy us. Likewise, these are texts that show us how to resist evil in such a way that we don’t become the evil that we are resisting.
It’s important to remember that the culture of Jesus was a vastly different culture. It was a culture based on honor. It was a culture based on social hierarchy. It was also a culture ruled by Romans who were not going to tolerate social unrest, Romans who would not hesitate to slaughter dissenters.
So, if an member of the occupying empire army orders us to give up our coat, we can strip naked, giving up coat and shirt--which is an assault on honor, an assault that mortifies the soldier whose orders led to public indecency as much as the one who strips. It's also a way of showing that we won't be controlled. But we haven't done anything wrong--in fact, we've followed instructions and gone above and beyond. What's the poor soldier to do?
Jesus shows us how to live in this world, how to resist evil without being destroyed by evil. Some of us are in a position where we can do more to resist evil and oppression--and Jesus will call on us to do it. But some of us cannot. Jesus shows us how to live in the world, especially if we live on the margins of society.
What if the meek inherit the earth because they survive?