Psalm 37 and Matthew 5:5
Written by Charlie Baber, Pastor of Youth Ministry at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, NC
“Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5
When Jesus delivers the beatitudes in his Sermon on the Mount, he pronounces blessings on people who typically wouldn’t consider themselves #blessed. For example, we traditionally have translated Matt. 5:5 to read, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Certainly, the meek are humble, but meekness also implies submissive, easily imposed upon. The meek are those who will not resort to violence and coercion to get their way.
And in what scenario are the submissive claiming land? Usually, the conquest goes to the mighty victor. The land is sold to the wealthy. In our present housing market, the cost of land continues to soar, and it’s certainly not the meek who are able to purchase houses right now. You have to have cash in hand, the privilege to forego housing inspection, and the conniving luck to beat out all other buyers as soon as a new house goes on the market.
This particular blessing of the meek is not new to Israel’s faith story. Jesus is actually quoting Psalm 37. This Psalm is attributed to David, and instead of being a praise or petition to God, it is more like the book of Proverbs. Psalm 37 is an acrostic poem, where the author seeks to instill wisdom for the disenfranchised. Take a minute to pause and read Psalm 37 in its entirety.
Much like the book of Job, this Psalm challenges the popular rhetoric that God categorically blesses the righteous with health and wealth. This Psalm recognizes that often, the wicked do prosper at the expense of the righteous, and that it can become a temptation to participate in wickedness in order to get ahead. Over and over, the psalmist encourages the disenfranchised, “trust the Lord,” “enjoy the Lord,” “Commit your way to the Lord,” “be still before the Lord and wait for him.” We are encouraged not to get upset or angry over the injustice, because such emotions unchecked could lead us to fight evil with evil.
Part of the promise to the meek is that the wicked are temporary. They may be powerful. They may seem to get whatever they want. But it will not last. Their victory is a passing storm. Justice is the heart of God, the arc of the universe. And God’s justice is not won through might or power. As we learn in the Gospels, God’s justice is won through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we unite ourselves to this crucified Savior, we participate in the way of meekness, humility, non-violence, and yes, suffering. But being united to this Christ makes us co-heirs (Rom. 8:17), inheritors of the full promises of the Holy Spirit. Though the storms of the wicked come and go, though our suffering and struggle may be long, the final word is this, “Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth.”
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