The word translated as “Blessed” with which each Beatitudes begins, seems to be a promise of things to come. But the word is better translated as “O the bliss...” Bliss is a word that properly belongs only to the gods. Yet, Jesus is stating that it is his followers’ now. As William Barclay says, “...The Beatitudes are not promises of future happiness...they are affirmations of the bliss into which the Christian can enter here and now.”
Today’s Beatitude: The Meek
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matt 5:5)
The real meaning of this Beatitude is obscured by the word “meek.” Today, it means a Casper Milquetoast kind of person; shy, withdrawing, submissive. The Hebrew word is anaw and is used often in the Psalms. It describes a person who, because he/she loves God, accepts God’s guidance and never grows resentful about what comes, believing God knows best. Such a person is dear to God, say the Psalms over and over. Psalm 37 is very reminence of Jesus’ remark about this and reads, “But the anaw shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.”
When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the word praus was used for anaw. That word is used to describe an animal that has been tamed and is subject to the control of its handler. For example, we speak of horses being broken to the saddle or a sheepdog trained to herd on command. This animal is not weak, but controllable both within itself and from outside itself. The animal is not cowering, nor is it aggressive; it is praus. To paraphrase Aristotle when he talked about this quality in people, “[Such a person] feels anger on the right grounds, against the right person, in the right manner, at the right time, and for the right length of time.”
The Greek view of such a person describes a person who is gentle when it is within his/her power to be forceful. There is a certain strength in this person. This is the attitude of Jesus when he says, “Not my will, but yours be done.” Or as Paul put it, “Be angry, but don’t sin.” Paul is saying the anger can be appropriate, such as Martin Luther King’s anger toward racial oppression, but it can’t be destructive. This is why non-violence appealed to King and was his chief weapon.
When Jesus speaks of inheriting the earth, this is an enlargement on Psalm 37’s promise to inherit the land, i.e., the territory of Israel. It is instead a promise of life (which is what “land” means in this context) here and now. If one is committed to God, then he/she will know peace which is beyond human understanding. Praus is the quality that gives that person power through self-mastery.
Thus, we can restate the Beatitude as Barclay does: Oh the bliss of the person who has so committed self to God, that that person is entirely God-controlled, for such a person will be right with God, self, others and will enter into that life which God has promised and God alone can give.