This beatitude is found only in the Gospel of Matthew because it is closely parallel in meaning to the first beatitude. Several scholars suspect that the beatitude about the meek (Mt 5: 5) is a Matthean addition. The Hebrew word for poor (anawim) can also mean “meek,” “gentle,” “humble” etc. Similarly, the inheritance of the earth which is promised in Matthew 5: 5 probably means the possession of the Kingdom as in the first beatitude. Perhaps it is because of this parallelism between the first and the third beatitude that certain manuscripts and ancient versions of Matthew’s gospel place the third beatitude immediately after the first.
Whatever may be its origin and its relation to the beatitude about the poor, Matthew 5: 5 is a citation from Psalm 37: 11. This Psalm also provides the background for the understanding of our beatitude. Psalm 37 is a wisdom type of psalm in which the psalmist exhorts his listeners to trust in the Lord. Describing the comparative fate of the wicked and the righteous the psalmist speaks of those who will possess the land. Indeed Psalm 37 contains five references to “possessing the land” (Cf. Ps 37: 9, 11, 22, 29, 34). Those who will possess the land are those who wait for the Lord, the meek and the righteous (Cf. Ps 37: 9, 11, 29). Thus in Psalm 37 the meek are the righteous. They are those who surrender themselves to the Lord and wait for him to act. It is in this sense that we should also understand the word “meek” in Matthew 5: 5. “Meekness” does not mean “lack of courage” or an attitude of “subservience” as it is usually understood today. When Jesus proclaims the meek blessed (Mt 5: 5), he means the righteous and the blameless; people who, like the poor in spirit, place their trust in the Lord and wait patiently for the Lord to act in their favour. Such people, Jesus says, are blessed because they shall inherit (possess) the earth (land). Inheriting the earth or the gifting of the land in Jesus’ promise does not refer to the “promised land” of Palestine. It expresses the end-time blessings of salvation, the gift of the Kingdom and the fulfilment of all human longings.
Like all other Matthean beatitude, the beatitude about the meek (Mt 5: 5) also has a parenetic edge. It contains a programme of non-violence for Jesus’ followers. They are not to retaliate or take revenge in the face of oppression, violence and persecution. Instead, the disciple of Jesus are to be meek, confiding in the Lord and committing themselves to him if they are to share the blessings of salvation. Jesus who proclaims the meek blessed (Mt 5: 5) is himself the perfect model of meekness for his disciples to follow: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11: 29; Cf. Also Mt 21: 5).