Lectionary 70 Gospel Matthew 5:1-12A
The virtues of humility and gentleness are clearly the keynotes of this Sunday’s scripture readings. The prophet Zephaniah begins by exhorting us, “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth…seek justice, seek humility” (Zeph 2:3); the Psalmist then praises the Lord for upholding many who are trodden under by the secular world—the orphans, widows, the poor, the blind, the wounded, and the oppressed. For his part even St. Paul, who long struggled with pride, reminds the Corinthians: “Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor 1:26-27). Of course these readings lead up to and support the sublime words of Jesus in the beatitudes, found in the “Sermon on the Mount”. There, among other moving words of wisdom, he teaches: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land” (Matt 5:5).
The term rendered here in English as “meek” can also rightly be understood as “gentle” and it is translated as such elsewhere in the Bible. It occurs as an adjective, “gentle,” four times in the New Testament and twelve more times it is used in its noun form, “gentleness”. Taking all sixteen occurrences of this word family together we find that in most cases the words “gentle” or “gentleness” are used to describe the way every Christian ought to live—the term is used in this way in the beatitudes. The few cases in which a specific person is described by means of these terms should catch our attention and give us cause to reflect on our own attempt to be “gentle”. The reason I say this is that the only particular “persons” so described as meeting the standard of being truly “meek” or “gentle” are the Lord Jesus (Matt 11:29; 21:5) and the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:23)—impressive company indeed!
What this should tell us is that gentleness is a characteristic not of cringing or weak people, but of those who are fundamentally strong. Further, they are strong in such a way that they are at peace in their own identity and person: they have self-confidence and self-acceptance such that they desire no praise from others, nor do they fear the negative opinion of others. For this very reason people who are gentle are able to see and sympathize with the plight of those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and who are persecuted or insulted for the sake of righteousness.
Going beyond this, those who are gentle, having been graced by God with a balanced measure of inner peace, are aware that they need to reach deeper and give of themselves in order to alleviate those things that cause people to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and to be persecuted or insulted for the sake of righteousness, and thus to live as those who are peacemakers, merciful, and clean of heart. They are moved to do this because as Christians they (we all) have a duty to live as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and it precisely this Kingdom that Jesus describes in the beatitudes. It turns all earthly kingdoms on their head because it shows the true order of reality, redeemed from the effects of sin and the perennial struggle for power and prestige.
Our Lord promises the Kingdom of Heaven to the humble of the earth; as the possibilities of a new year stand before us, let it be our resolve to live humbly and gently, at peace in the knowledge that in doing so we imitate Christ himself, and that our “reward will be great in heaven” (Matt 5:12).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Image: Carl Block (1834-1890) Sermon on the Mount.