I remember some years ago feeling bad for people who seemed to lack talents. People without social skills and conspicuous abilities appeared to be at a disadvantage in marriage, in the workplace, even in the Church. Maybe the meek shall inherit the earth, but only as a consolation prize after it has been desecrated by millennia of human contamination.
Or so I thought. While it may be true that talent, polish, and ability will triumph in this world, in the eternal worlds it is a different story.
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty (1 Cor. 1:27).
Meekness has vital importance for family life. For example, most marriage programs used to put a heavy emphasis on communication skills. But there is a growing body of research that suggests that communication is not the key to a satisfying and enduring marriage. A skillful person may use that ability to bless and support or to devastate and manipulate a partner. Skillfulness by itself is neither a blessing nor a curse.
But, according to research, there is a quality that matters very much in marriage: kindness. Kind people, even if they lack refined skills, will bless their partners. I think of meekness as a companion and necessary condition for kindness. A golden tongue is clearly less important than a heart of gold.
The New Testament words translated as meek can also be translated as mild, humble, and gentle (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible; Words 4239, 4235 Greek Dictionary). When I try to put a face to the quality of meekness, I think of a man named Walter who was in our ward many years ago. He was a short, quiet German immigrant with a distinctive accent. He was the custodian at the church and a part-time farmer. I remember seeing him ride from his home to the chapel on a little Honda 50 carrying a shovel; he carried the shovel just in case he discovered any problems with the irrigation canals as he rode to work. That shovel symbolized his readiness to help out. The polished floors in the hallways of the chapel bespoke his devotion. The other clear image I have of Walter is as a greeter in our ward. He stood at the entrance to the chapel and, as each person approached, would take that person’s hand in both of his and welcome them. He did not say much but his face beamed a warm greeting. He and his wife served two missions together.
In my mind I can see the final day when the redeemed are welcomed into heaven. I can picture Walter riding in the tradition of royalty on the back of an ass. Bank presidents, professors, and business people will be in the throng who cheer as Walter passes into the divine presence. Many of us will bow to honor the quality that will rule in eternity. Walter will wonder at the fanfare but will offer his traditional greeting of a warm and gentle smile. “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 19:30)
As a side note, Smith observes that “with us the ass is a symbol of stubbornness and stupidity, while in the East it is especially remarkable for its patience, gentleness, intelligence, meek submission and great power of endurance. . . . The ass was the animal of peace as the horse was the animal of war; hence the appropriateness of Christ in his triumphal entry riding on an ass” (W. Smith, 1948, Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, p. 61).
Elder Maxwell has observed that “among the qualities to be developed in order to make that breathtaking journey, and to be more like him and later with him, is the quality of meekness. It is upon this quality that so many other things, in turn, depend.” (Meek and Lowly, p.3)
Each of us has limited vision in mortality. At best we “see through a glass, darkly.” Yet meekness is available to all. When we are meek, we are blessed to see not only our own view of the world through that dark glass but we are blessed to hear the observations of all others who have their faces to that window on eternity. Those who lack meekness may insist that their view is the only view. They see so much less than the meek. Further, meekness opens us to the precious perspective of He who “comprehendeth all things.” The meek are likely to see more of eternity because they are willing to be taught.
I remember a bishop we had who was a welder and handyman by trade. Some of our previous bishops had been prominent businessmen or professors. This bishop was not polished in his skills, including reading, which was an effort for him. He told me that he could hardly keep up with the correspondence from church headquarters. But he was clearly inspired. One day he told me the secret of his success. “Brother Goddard, I know I’m just not smart enough to do the job the Lord expects of me so I get down on my knees and I beg him for help.” It was clear to us that the Lord answered that humble man’s prayers.
While many people act as if meekness is weakness, the Book of Mormon teaches otherwise. We learn of an oppressed people that
. . . did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God” (Helaman 3:35).
Mortality inverts everything. The meekness and gentleness that reign in eternity are viewed in mortality as a curse to be overcome with assertiveness and effectiveness training. At the other end of the spectrum, the self-made man or woman who triumphs on earth will find that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).
Many of those who will reign in eternity may go unnoticed in mortality. Many of us, had we lived two millennia ago, might have thought Jesus of no account, for the king of eternity “hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).
The man who washed His disciples’ feet now reigns in eternity not because He is finished with meekness but because He has perfected it. While pride prevents service, meekness inspires and sanctifies it.
But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their God. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also (2 Nephi 9:30).
Regularly, even daily, we get tested on whether we will be seduced by the vanity, luxuries, and prominence of this world or cherish the meekness and submissiveness of eternity. “For every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:14). Giving to the poor, including a generous fast offering, is one of the surest signs that a person has begun to understand the mission and Atonement of Jesus Christ (see Mosiah 4:26).
The curses of talent are self-sufficiency and self-absorption; the fruits of meekness are communion with God and charity for His children. In the final day the meek will inherit the earth not as a consolation prize but as rightful heirs of all that God has created. When the earth has become heaven, the gentle will rule.