My last two blogs have explored the first two beatitudes or blessings of Jesus as reported in Matthew Chapter 5. The third of Jesus’ blessings is hard to translate. I have given it as:
Happiness for the gentle;
they will possess the Land.
The KJV has:
blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth
The word “praeis” is found in the Greek Old Testament at Psalm 37:11 where it translates the original Hebrew “anawim” which means afflicted, poor, God- fearing. Perhaps it’s not very different from the first blessing on “those who demand no power over others”, with in this case an emphasis on not demanding/ not having land. Every person in Israel was meant to inherit some of the land given by God. Powerful people, however , grabbled land for themselves. Gentle people might often end up landless.
The verb “ kleronomesousin” in Greek does have the sense of inheriting, that is, possessing what God has given. It does not mean only a legal right, more a social fact. The Greek “gey”can mean the earth, but here it is probably a reference to ”eretz yisrael”, the promised land.
So, how can the dispossessed, landless, gentle people “possess the land.”? The answer is in Jesus’ words to his disciples ( Mark 10: 29) that those who have given up family, houses, fields, to follow him will receive these gifts back tenfold in the shared life of the assembly of Jesus, where possession is communal. The gentle people are ready for this sharing which brings great human wealth and happiness. There is a future dimension to this blessing but Jesus knows that the happiness starts now, even in the midst of dispossession and poverty, where gentle people trust his word.
Those who are not gentle, but are ready to grab the land and its resources for themselves, are not happy, for the price of this kind of possession is insecurity, vigilance and the threat of violence. But if any such accept Jesus’ teaching, they will find themselves welcomed by the sharing assemblies, and will be converted by the happiness of possessing nothing yet posessing everything – as St. Paul puts it, “penniless, we own the world!”
So, the blessing is fulfilled already even in the midst of a greedy society where the rich and ruthless “possess”the land. But more is promised which has not yet arrived: The assemblies of Jesus offer a fuller measure of shared life, but they are in turn only a foretaste of the life of God’s Rule, which will come one day.
The Assembly where I minister at present has a drop-in free cafe twice a week for anyone who wants food and company. Those who attend have suffered multiple deprivations, but are ready to welcome me with grace and humour. They have very little but they know how to share. There are many sorrows in their lives but they know the happiness of shelter, warmth, food, affection and dignity. Many religious assemblies in this city provide something similar, and are committed jointly to creating a more just society.
I can see and experience the truth of Jesus’ blessing in these communities, but it is a revolutionary teaching in a society like Scotland, where so much land is in the hands of the idle aristocracy or has been increasingly grabbed by very rich institutions and individuals. Land which might well provide a living for refugees or homes for the poor, is being used for the various forms of killing which delight the powerful. This does not justify any violent expropriation of those who own too much of our common inheritance, but it would justify gentle people insisting on electing a government that would very gently pass land reform laws to bring back into public control and for public benefit, land that has been alienated by unfettered capitalism and medieval privilege.
Meanwhile faithful disciples should model themselves on the Assembly described in Acts chapters 2 and 4 which allowed gentle people to possess “the land” together.