“BLESSED ARE THE MEEK” (Mt. 5:3).
Jesus statement, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” is a prediction based on historical events. It is in brief the story of the small farmer. He is timid, submissive and defenseless. The high and the mighty enslave him, take his land and exploit it until it becomes unproductive. Then, they let the meek man return to a wasteland and have him rebuild it. The Hebrews had a law that limited exploitation to fifty years (Lev. 25). The Hebrews also stopped driving out the conquered people because they need farmers to teach them the trade and then the natives ended up as masters. The meek are the masters of the earth. They have the patience and endurance to subdue the earth and become dispensers of grace (Gen. 1:26).
In my lifetime, World War II extended the state farming system in Russia by fifty years. When Germany turned on Russia, the Ukrainians were starving and ready to assist the Germans to drive the communists into the Sea of Japan. My cousin’s fiancée was a German soldier and he had orders to shoot down the hordes of Ukrainians with his machine gun. He shared his guilt with us at our breakfast table. Just think, the largest country in area in the world could not feed 130 million Russians without exploiting and subduing other nations and buying grain from Canada and others? The managers from Kremlin were disinterested owners in the land. Their priority was to dominate the world with their philosophy. Here is an example. My grandfather, my father and I were born in the same house on the same farm and the Russians turned it into a military shooting range. I have lived and worked on farms for the first twenty-one years of my life in Poland, Germany and Canada. I am very familiar with what the Russians did in Eastern Poland where I was born, what they did to East Germany, what the Canadians did to their farms and what has happened to the small farmer in America. Our fifty years are nearly up.
The very first page in the Bible is about the land and man’s relationship to it. From Adam to our time man was commanded to work the soil and make it productive. From the inception of Israel by Abraham and to the present, the Jewish people fought for land. The pilgrims came to these shores for land. My ancestors went to the Ukraine and some to the Americas for land. We do not think much of Hitler; yet, he purchased us from Stalin, indoctrinated us in Germany and then placed us on Polish lands to produce food. The reason was that our people were simple but ingenious to work the soil without modern technology. They were also familiar with the culture and the language of the people they replaced.
Jesus praised the meek because they would ultimately claim the earth. What did He have in mind? The Greek text has the word “praus” and it means being gentle, kind and mild. To many of us it suggests an attitude that qualifies us for the kingdom of heaven. It is indeed a noble assumption and no more. Jesus was not dealing with heaven but with the cruel reality that the rich had disowned the small farmers. The way they treated the land, it could not sustain the nation. The earth craved just as much for deliverance from oppression as man did (Ro. 8:19-22). Who were the meek?
In Jesus’ day, the meek were the people that had no political or religious input. They were nobody. They knew nothing and they were the cursed of the land (Jn. 7:49). These were the people that had lost their property to the rich or to foreigners. This was indicated by the masses that followed Jesus. Twice Jesus fed five and four thousand hungry people. He told a parable of a merciful owner that went out three times in one day to hire workers for his vineyard. When Israel took possession of Canaan, they were not allowed to grow rich by manipulation. Land could not be sold only crops were. After forty-nine harvests and one year of rest, those that sold or lost the right to harvest could reclaim the right to use the land. It was known as the year of jubilee (Lev. 25). The law stated, “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and only my tenants” (Lev. 25:23).
Canaan belonged to God and not to Israel. The farmers were only stewards or leaseholders. The Parable of the Tenants in Matthew 21:33-46 has more than a religious significance. For Jesus, the religious condition and the land were intertwined. When Israel revolted against the Romans, their politicians and religious leaders along with Jerusalem were destroyed. The farmers were no taken to Rome for they were needed to produce food. The Romans sent their soldiers only to conquer lands and nations to support their dominion. Seven hundred years earlier, the Assyrians invaded Northern Israel. Their men of war brought their families and animals. They ravaged the country, destroyed Jerusalem and carried off the ruling class never to return. The Assyrians that stayed behind needed the Jewish farmers to communicate and to manage the land. Ultimately, they intermarried and became the Samaritans. The Babylonian soldiers came without their families and lived off the lands they conquered. They too took the ruling class and most leading citizens into captivity, exploited the country and destroyed Jerusalem and left the farmers to their misfortune. The invaders would leave behind a small army to collect tribute or taxes from the impoverished people. That was precisely what the Romans were doing to the Jews during the time of Jesus. Jesus predicted that harsher times and treatments were ahead for his people and the Gentiles.
This type of warfare would destroy mighty Rome. German hoards from the North would invade Italy, sack Rome and ravage the country. From the Northeast, the Mongols, the Slaves and the Tartars would bring their families to Europe and drive the occupants west. Prior to the conquest by huge armies, small groups were also moving in on other property owners. Abraham had three hundred-eighteen fighting men (Gen. 14:14). He was more powerful than the kings of Jerusalem and Sodom and Gomorrah and the invaders that had taken bounties and captives from these cities. Abraham protected Jerusalem and her farmers. Gideon routed a camp of Midianites with three hundred farmers (Jud. 7). David did the same for his benefactors with six hundred loyal servants (I Sam. 30). Cities and towns were built with surrounding walls to protect the people from invaders. The people of the land became farmers and soldiers. However, they were no match for the invaders that gathered larger armies by banding together and subjected the farmers to paying tribute and taxes. They were disarmed and rendered helpless. They were not even allowed to make or sharpen their farming tools (I Sam. 13:20). Indeed, they were the meek with hostiles controlling their land and lives.
The word meek did not mean that these farmers were weak people. To the contrary, they were strong and tough. They endured and outlasted invaders and raiders, not by force but by submission. They turned the other cheek and walked the second mile just to stay alive. They thrashed their grain in secret at nights so that they could feed their families (Jud. 6:11). And when some one could organize the people into a formidable counter force and drive the enemies from the land, then these men were elevated and became intolerable and corrupt (Jud. 9). Again, the farmer was forced to work for his king or leader (I Sam. 8). Nature itself was cruel at times, but human intolerance was far worse.
It was long ago when Jesus uttered these words that we still immortalize. These are not just wonderful words of hope but cruel realities for many of my generation. I am living proof that human behavior has not progressed but regressed from Bible times. We were farmers in Poland in 1939. My father was the blacksmith for these farmers. He was licensed for building and maintaining farming tools. The Polish army drafted him and kept him in reserve to shoe horses and keep their wagons running. After two years, he was allowed to go home and start a family and his business. We were not allowed to have in our possession firearms or radios. We were not allowed to hunt on our land. During hunting season, we had to drive the animals out of hiding so the Nobles could shoot them. We had no recourse if a few of us got hurt or killed. We were simply dispensable. I was nine when I had to chase rabbits for these lords. The war of 1939 changed everything for our farmers and us. The earth was inherited forcefully by the state.
The war between Germany and Poland was a long history. My genealogy began in a Lutheran Church during the days of Fredrick the Great in West Prussia. The Poles took over our country, drove our ancestors from their homes to the Russian Ukraine. Poland had unified under the leadership of the Swedes while Germany was splintered before Bismarck united Germany under the Kaiser. The Poles separated Prussia from East Prussia. Germany failed in World War I to obtain permission to build a road through Poland to join the West Prussia with East Prussia. Hitler began demanding a road and Poland refused with the support of England and Russia. Russia had a bitter memory when Hindenburg defeated them in the Mazuries during World War I. When Hitler annexed Austria and Bohemia, the Poles knew that they were next. Hitler wanted Lebensraum and Poland had the land were he could expand easily. Poland’s army was still on horses run by nobles that did not permit the common people to bear arms. When Germany tanks rolled into Poland, my father who had served in the Polish army for two years and was kept in reserve joined five hundred men with fifty rifles, two horses and an old canon to face the German tanks and artillery. It was a Blitz-Krieg – a quick finish.
Hitler had a plan for Poland. First, he satisfied Stalin to give him half of Poland and that is why the Russians did not object to the German expansion. Secondly, Hitler wanted all the German settlers, who were mostly farmers, from the Russian occupied territory to be moved to the German occupied territory. The Soviets had no longer any need for good and prosperous farmers, the Germans did. We were the people the Russians loaded into boxcars and shipped us off to the Germans. They in tern tried to indoctrinate us and placed us in charge of Polish farms to produce food for Germany and the army. Our farmers had built the Western Ukraine into a breadbasket and they did the same for Hitler by cheer man and animal power with no electricity or motorized power. In addition, we understood the language, the culture, the customs and the fear of not obeying a government that did not value human life. We were very meek people because we had no choice being anything else. At the same time the Nazis needed us farmers to provide the bread. One time a Nazi from the Reich drank too much and disturbed the peace, my father disarmed and jailed him. This man accused my father to his higher ups, and his supervising judge sided with my father, the humble farmer. When Germany was being bombed, the Berliners sent their families to us for safekeeping. No friend or enemy bombed our farms because not even a war can be fought without bread. We were dispensers of bread and for that reason also dispensers of grace. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head” (Ro. 12:20).