In today’s Gospel, we are presented with the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus gives us the Beatitudes. I am always struck by the third one, (Matthew 5:5) “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.” Other translations end the passage with “… they shall inherit the earth” (RSV) and “… they shall have the earth as their inheritance” (NJB). What is Jesus referring to here?
Our homilist suggested that the “land” or “earth” are metaphors for our place in the heavenly, spiritual, and therefore, non-physical existence to come. If that’s so, Jesus may have been being a bit overly clever with his hearers.
You see, the Law of Moses, which, later in the Sermon, Jesus says is still in effect, apportioned all the land in Israel to to the individual families of the nation. This legal possession (not ownership – God was the owner) of the land was one of the means by which the Law guaranteed prosperity for all the Jews. That part of the Law had only recently been crushed by the Herods and the Romans. Except for those with government privilege, the Jews had been reduced to poverty, now being tenant farmers and sharecroppers on the land that their fathers or grandfathers had possessed.
This memory, and the injustice it represented, was certainly in the minds of his listeners as Jesus gave his famous sermon. What do you think was triggered when Jesus said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.”? I believe it was the promise of the Law, that the land should be restored, that everyone was an equal inheritor of the land God made. That the “rent” God charged for his land was the tithe, which took care of all religious and civil government needs.
If the people to whom Jesus was talking thought he was speaking metaphorically, I think they would have found the statement a cruel joke, so soon after they had lost their inheritance, and with it, their freedom and prosperity.
I think Jesus was harkening to the Law. However, he could not restore the Law. That is up to us.