‘Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth’
20th January 2022
‘Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth’.
(Gospel of Matthew Chapter 5, verse 5)
HOM: Thinking flexibly
I think it’s true to say that our modern understanding of what is meant by being meek, suggests weakness. It seems to imply submissiveness or powerlessness, surely not characteristics to be considered blessed. That is why it is important to return to the original language in which the New Testament was written (Hellenistic Greek) to work out the meaning here. As I am often at pains to emphasise to my students, things frequently get lost in translation, leading to significant misinterpretations and unintended consequences.
The Greek word for meekness is praotes and was used by Aristotle to define the virtue that lay between excessive anger and excessive ‘angerlessness’. So a possible translation of this quotation is: Blessed is the person who is angry at the right time, and never angry at the wrong time. As you can see, this sheds a whole new light on the Bible quotation.
The meaning lies in recognising that anger which is selfless may indeed be blessed, motivating us to challenge injustices that we encounter in our world. In contrast the anger which is selfish is far from blessed and will more likely bring hatred and conflict.
Another possible understanding of praotes comes from the way that the Greeks often contrasted this quality with hupselokardia, which means lofty-heartedness. This leads to an understanding that praotes means true humility which banishes pride. And it is of course pride which leads a person to excessive anger when they feel personally slighted. That is a destructive anger.
Praotes or meekness is the quality of those Jesus says ‘will inherit the earth’. These are the people who have their anger and passions under control and who are motivated not by selfish ambitions but by compassion towards others. They are far from weak but have a strength to override the passions which could derail them from doing the right thing.
On this week in which Holocaust Memorial Day falls (27th January) we will both commemorate the dead and also remember those who were numbered as the righteous, acting without thought of self and who inspired hope.