“Blessed Are Those Who Meek, for They Will Inherit the Earth”

Scripture – Romans 12:14-18

Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones

Sunday, October 16, 2022


What comes to mind when you hear the word “meek”? Someone who is spineless? A person who lacks initiative? A shy person who never speaks up? In a room full of people, is it the person that no one remembers was there? Is “meek” a synonym for wallflower?

Several commentators on the beatitudes remark that this one – “Blessed are the meek” – is the most perplexing and most misunderstood. Poet and novelist, Margaret Atwood, writes: “This is surely the most difficult beatitude. First, it’s hard to interpret. Does it mean softness or gentleness or weakness? Are ‘the meek’ the powerless, or perhaps the poor? Is their meekness to be displayed toward God, but not toward people? How meek is meek, and do you always have to let bullies kick sand in your face at the beach?”1

You remember that the first beatitude is “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Is there a difference between being poor in spirit and being meek or are they essentially the same thing? I don’t think so.

The Greek word that many translations render as “meek” is a rarity in the New Testament. It only occurs once outside of the Gospel of Matthew. We find it in the First Letter of Peter, where it is generally translated not as “meek” but as “gentle.”

The Greek word pops up three times in Matthew’s gospel and the New Revised Standard Version – our pew Bible – translates it with a different English word each time. The problem is that there is no English equivalent to the Greek word. Professor Rebekah Eklund points out that “the earliest English translation of the New Testament did not translate this word as ‘meek,’ but rather as ‘mild.’ The word meek did not appear until 150 years later.”2

Further complicating our understanding of what Jesus intended by this beatitude is that the meaning of meekness has changed over time. According to Dictionary.com the word “meek” means someone who is overly submissive or compliant. Some of the synonyms it provides are docile, gentle, submissive, and timid.

Merriam Webster provides these three definitions: 1) enduring injury with patience and without resentment, 2) deficient in spirit and courage, and 3) not violent or strong. One of the synonyms it provides is “humble.” These definitions may accurately define what meek means today, but it’s not what Jesus meant.

Professor Eklund took a deep dive into the beatitudes and how they have been understood over the past 2,000 years. She points out that “In 1738, Anglican priest Arthur Saint George described meekness as abhorrence of strife and the refusal to take revenge…John Wesley’s sermons on the beatitudes described meekness as the ‘midline’ between two extremes: neither apathy nor uncontrolled emotion… For many of our predecessors, meekness was a form of power, not of weakness. It referred not to those who never get angry but to those who never lose their temper. The meek are not the weak but the self-controlled, not those who shrink back but those who willingly choose to yield.”3

Eklund tells about a student in her forgiveness and reconciliation course. He “wrote an essay describing some of his experiences as a young black man growing up in America. He shares some of the racist comments people have made to him and about him, and how that has wounded him. He tells of being followed by security guards when he goes into stores. He lives in fear of being shot by police someday. He writes about how angry he gets and how easy it would be to fight back. But he also talks about the real strength that it takes not to fight back. He talks about Martin Luther King Jr.’s way of fighting evil with love as his model.”4

Meekness in this sense is clearly not weakness. It is a form of power. In this student’s case, meekness is nonviolent resistance like that of King and Mahatma Gandhi. It is what Jesus talked about when he counseled his followers to turn the other cheek. It’s what the Apostle Paul meant when he said to bless those who persecute you.

In the face of injustice, meekness is a form of power. It requires tremendous self-control, a gentle spirit, and a fierce determination to see the enemy not as someone to be conquered by force, but to be converted by compassion.

A colleague provides a similar image of meekness. He tells about an African American preacher from an earlier generation. Baltimore Taylor was a dynamic speaker and one day in the 1950s as he was driving through the South, he pulled into a gas station. This was long before self-serve gas stations. In those days an attendant would fill up your car and clean your windshield.

Taylor pulled into the station and a white attendant came out and said with a sneer, “We don’t serve your kind here.”

Taylor was a large, muscular man who could have made the attendant pay for his nastiness. He also had a quick wit that could have shredded the man verbally. Instead, he chose to be gracious and drove on. When he pulled into the next station, he climbed out of his car and before the attendant could say a word, he said, “Mr. Taylor would like his car serviced please.” The attendant thought he was a chauffeur, so he dutifully filled the car with gas, cleaned the windshield, checked the oil and even the pressure in the tires. After paying, Taylor simply climbed back into his car and continued his journey.5

The meek are not weak. They possess a strong inner spirit that allows them to maintain self-control. They do not try to inflate their stature or shove others off center stage. The meek are comfortable enough in their own skin to forgive when they have been wronged. They seek the welfare of others. They strive for peace.

Today’s scripture reading from Paul’s Letter to the church in Rome provides a beautiful definition of what Jesus means by meek. Paul writes, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be arrogant, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:14-18)

Meekness is not exactly the same as humility, but I would say they are cousins. As I see it, humility is one of the characteristics of meekness. The person who is meek is a calm, humble, even-tempered, self-controlled person who wields power through love and kindness rather than coercive force.

Imagine how much more amicable our country would be if people understood and embodied a meek spirit. Think how much easier and safer driving would be without aggressive, hot-headed drivers. Consider how much more congenial social media would be if people rejoiced with those who rejoice and wept with those who weep rather than trying to elevate themselves by butchering others.

Are you familiar with the women’s anti-war movement called “Women in Black?” It is a world-wide network of women who stage non-violent protests against injustice and unnecessary wars. It began in Jerusalem in the 1980s with Jewish women protesting serious violations of human rights of the Palestinians – both Christian and Muslim – by Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Territories.

In 2003, in the weeks leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a close friend marched with women in Richmond to protest the coming war. The women dressed in black and walked silently down a wide boulevard. It was a non-verbal, non-violent, and non-confrontational protest. Numerous men driving by honked their horns and screamed at them using words that I dare not use from the pulpit and gave them a vulgar hand gesture. The women endured verbal abuse, but thankfully not physical abuse. It took courage to keep going back week after week opening themselves to the venom that was spewed on them, but they had the courage of their convictions to stand for what was right.

While it’s common for people today to equate meekness with weakness, that is definitely not the biblical meaning of the word. People who are meek are strong; strong not in the sense of brute force, but in terms of inner strength and determined willpower. The meek do not force their way into the spotlight. Instead, they willingly submit to God and allow the spirit of Jesus – which is love, justice, and peace – to guide their thinking and their actions. They are empathetic to pain and they seek the good of others. As a result, their lives are rich and full, and they experience the joy that comes from living in harmony with God’s Spirit.

In a world where conspiracy theorists spread ugly lies laced with hate, where losing football players take out their frustration by shoving cameramen to the ground, and where politicians refuse to accept the results of the vote, we should have no difficulty understanding why Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek.”

As followers of Jesus, we are challenged to embrace this countercultural teaching and to embody it, so that each of us might demonstrate a better – a far better – way of living.



  1. Margaret Atwood, “What About the Meek?” Sojourners, January 2015.
  2. Rebekah Eklund, The Beatitudes through the Ages, (Grand Rapids, Michigan” Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2021), p. 124.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., p.122.
  5. Brad Giffin, “Meekness God Wants Requires Strength Under Control,” Dailyadvance.com, May 15, 2021.