Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 37: The Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12, Lk 6:20-38) part 1: The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 37: The Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12, Lk 6:20-38) part 1: The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Jesus’ articulation of the Beatitudes in The Sermon on the Mount strikes many people as paradoxical and surprising. I think that a Girardian perspective helps make sense of Jesus’ message. The Beatitudes provide profound insights about how to avoid mimetic desire and its consequence, scapegoating violence.

How can the meek inherit the earth? Are not meek individuals, human and animal, regularly abused? Jesus assures the downtrodden that they will prevail and that their woes will abate. However, it is not exactly clear how this will happen. When Jesus said that the meek will “inherit the earth,” some listeners probably envisioned that God would hand over the reigns of power. This would have accorded with traditional notions of justice, in which those who have been oppressed avenge their misery by destroying those they have deemed responsible. Indeed, this passage has inspired many contemporary Christian liberation movements to violently overthrow their oppressors.

Revolutionary violence, however, merely substitutes one group’s perceived righteous violence (meted out by powerful rulers) with another group’s perceived righteous violence (meted out by the formerly meek who have gained power). I don’t think Jesus was trying to tell the meek that one day they would hold the reigns of power, enabling them to exact revenge. Rather, he was teaching that submission, faithfulness, and love would eventually prevail.

How will this happen? Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” indicating that discipleship itself is the means by which his followers will prevail. He said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” In other words, to “inherit the earth” does not mean a reversal of fortunes in which the strong are humbled and the meek are exalted to a position of power and control. Jesus envisioned a moral and spiritual revolution, not a violent one.

Jesus’ nonviolent message went beyond the injunction against killing. He stated, “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” (Mt 5:21-22) Jesus continued that one must reconcile with one’s brother even before offering a gift at the alter—indicating that making peace with one’s brother is more important than religious observance.

Why does anger, even without action, prompt Jesus’ condemnation? The reason, I think, is that Jesus understood that anger leads to violence. The problem with anger, as discussed previously, is that it blinds the mind to the truth. When anger incites violence, the angry person almost always considers his/her response justice, not violence. Unless we reconcile with one another, we will blame each other for our own anger, we will aim to avenge our damaged self-esteem, and we will initiate or reinforce a cycle of mimetic violence that will likely lead to either murder of one another or of an innocent scapegoat.

In the next essay on the Beatitudes, I will explore further Jesus’ concern about our thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

Go on to: Part 38: The Beatitudes part 2: Blessed Are the Poor
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