The following is taken from a sermon series preached at The Southeast Project. You can listen to the audio of this teaching on our sermon audio page.
My daughter Emily is 7 years old, and she is so much fun to just hang out with and spend time with. She has become a basketball fan this year, which is obviously great if you’re a dad from Indiana.
Last night, she got to stay up late and watch the NBA All Star Saturday Night Dunk Contest. We prepped for it by watching old YouTube clips of crazy NBA dunks where guys were breaking rims, shattering glass, and going through their legs as they dunked. She loved it. We sat down to watch the dunk contest, and it’s in LA which means the crowd is super LA. The crowd is filled with celebrities and “important people” in the first few rows.
Now, imagine with me as the announcer walks out into the center of the floor. Everyone has their seats and they are waiting for player introductions. All of a sudden they announce that those in the first rows have been moved to the nose bleeds, not so people up there could move down, but because people who couldn’t even afford a ticket have been let in and are taking their seats.
This might help you as we continue to imagine this scene with Jesus.
Imagine the scene, as people come to listen to Jesus. Everyone gathers and finds their spot. In today’s world, the best seats seem to be reserved for the wealthy and the powerful. It wouldn’t be any different in Jesus’s day. If there were wealthy and powerful men, they would have pushed everyone aside and found their place right at the front…right where they belonged.
With that in mind, you can maybe imagine the shock of the wealthy and powerful when Jesus begins to speak about blessings and, instead of pointing to the people who seem to have it all together, he points to the ones on the margins, the ones who couldn’t afford their next meal, and says, “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” People who have nothing actually own the Kingdom of Heaven.
Then he points to people in the midst of tragedies, people who are showing up simply because they are looking for one last hope, and Jesus says to them, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Hope coming from desperation.
And then, he looks out beyond the crowd and his eyes settle on the women and children and says,
5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Now, at first glance, everyone knows this is the truth. Of course children will inherit the earth because that’s how things work. We say this kind of stuff all the time as we wonder what kind of world we are passing on to our kids. What kind of earth will they inherit? We all want our kids to have a better life and a safer world than we had.
Jesus is using this wordplay to point out something far more powerful and it has to do with the word we translate to “the earth”. You see, another way you could put that, what it literally says is, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Land.”
That’s not a mistake. The Land should capitalized because it’s pointing to a very specific land. It’s pointing to the promised land that God has promised the Jewish people. A place where they wouldn’t experience slavery but where they would have freedom.
This wordplay just seems crazy to the people who were listening to Jesus, because they knew the rules. Meekness hadn’t worked for them at all. These people who had inherited the land from their ancestors had lost it to the Roman Empire. It appeared that the power of Rome, the dominance of Rome, and the arrogance of Rome seemed to be what actually worked. That’s who actually inherits the land.
But, again, Jesus goes beyond what you read at face value as you see that he is talking about something so much bigger. When Jesus says the meek will inherit the Land, it is another way of saying the ones who live like this will experience the way things are supposed to be. They will find out what it means to experience the goodness and blessings of God.
Think about that. It is the powerful in our world who seem to use their power to gain and control what seem to be blessings. It is power that appears to lead to greatness. Now, listen to this, because we have to remember something…we have been given the incredible fortune, or curse, of having a ton of power and a ton of wealth because we live in America. This one should hurt a bit if you are actually playing along.
So what will we do with that? What will we do with Jesus’s teaching here?
Jesus says we’ve been wrong all along. Greatness isn’t found with power. It is found in meekness.
Just a short time later, Jesus illustrates this.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
It’s almost as if the disciples never learned. They are still focused on greatness, power, and control. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek.” Were these guys not listening? Did they forget to take notes? So, Jesus tells them who is the greatest and he comes back to meekness.
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
What’s really interesting here is that Jesus isn’t just talking about children in general. That illustration on its own is really powerful. But he uses the phrase “little children” which wasn’t about age or size but, was about socioeconomics. These weren’t cute suburban kids…they were slaves in the home of the wealthy.
When I read this I’m a little disturbed by that. Why didn’t Jesus also tell people to stop treating kids this way? This doesn’t seem right. But that’s exactly what Jesus had done. In his teaching he said this is who will inherit the earth. And, Jesus doesn’t just say that these kids matter…he says be like them.
The powerful and wealthy could no longer simply look past the children in the world because they were told that their lives should look just like them. They have to see the humanity in the children they have treated so poorly and learn from them about what it means to really live. Their lives of power and wealth were nothing compared to these kids.
Imagine that moment. The powerful, the wealthy, and the arrogant shaken to their core as, for the first time, they look in the eyes of these children, and they see themselves for who they are and these children for who they really are. Children who represent the goodness, mercy, joy, and blessing of the Kingdom of God.
This picture leads us to a final story from Jesus’s life that shows us the true picture of meekness. As a servant, this child that sits with Jesus would have had the responsibility to wash the feet of the guests in the house. There is no greater a meek role you could play, yet Jesus tells us that is how we should act ourselves.
At the end of Jesus’s life, he is with his disciples. They had just eaten a meal together and he does something completely unexpected. He actually takes on the posture of a servant.
John 13:4-5; 14-15
4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him…14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
What we find out in the words and actions of Jesus is contrary to what we have learned from Wall Street, Main Street, and History. What Jesus was teaching the powerful of his day, he passes on to the disciples and to us. Real power doesn’t exploit, real power doesn’t dehumanize, real power doesn’t shame, and real power doesn’t have to win the argument because real power recognizes there is always something more. There is always something more to give, to love, to honor, and to learn.
This is what I’ve discovered with my kids. When I am angry, it is my daughter who walks in the room shaking her butt and smiling and dancing and shows me that life is too short to waste it away being angry. When I feel selfish, it is my daughter who comes in and hands me a gift just because she wanted to give me something. When I feel like I know it all, my daughter asks me a question I don’t have the answer to reminding me to never stop being curious and to always learn. And this week, I asked my 3 year old where Jesus lived, and her answer was “in my heart.” When I don’t feel like I have enough faith, it is my daughter who teaches me to trust.
This shows me that while we may have something to teach our children, they have more to teach us about what it means to live in the Kingdom of Heaven and experience the joy, peace, love, and sense of awe that God desires for each and every one of us.