By Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.
“BLESSED ARE THE LOWLY; THEY SHALL INHERIT THE LAND”
In the Bible the lowly are like the first understanding of the poor in spirit, or just poor in Luke 6:20: powerless, voiceless, dependent; that is, in the eyes of the world. The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) identify the lowly as orphans and widows because they are without financial help. It is not expected of lowly people to do great things. Some modern examples would be people who are homeless, families mired in poverty, refugees, and so forth.
Lowliness characterized Jesus’ life. St. Paul reminds us of this in his letter to the people of Philippi: “Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave being born in our likeness.” Consider the following circumstances in Jesus’ early life – he is born into a subjected people; his birth takes place in the very humble surroundings of a stable; in addition to Mary and Joseph, he is first seen by simple, illiterate, hard-working shepherds; threatened by the local ruler, the family is forced to flee to Egypt as refugees.
Scripture scholar, William Barclay, suggests this interpretation of the third beatitude: “Blessed is the one who has realized his or her own utter helplessness and who has put their whole trust in God.” A serious illness – one’s own or a loved one’s – can lead us to this kind of surrender as can the loss of one’s job, especially in today’s economic climate. One bright spot in a troublesome economy comes to us on a faith level; we are given the opportunity to reflect on where our true worth lies – beyond material possessions.
The opposite of lowliness, in the context of this beatitude, is arrogance. In terms of ethical leadership this means a certain amount of humility and the ability to change one’s mind when new information comes to light. However, for many of us this is not an easy chore. Take the case of Doctor Benjamin Carson. Dr. Carson is known for his work as a very talented pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Asked what he thinks is the most difficult aspect of leadership, he responds: “Admitting when I’m wrong. You go through your analysis, you have all this education, you figure you’ve got it right, and then it doesn’t work the way you expected it to and you have to say: Could I have analyzed all this stuff and gotten it wrong? I don’t like doing that, but as I’ve gotten along in years, I have started to think more often that I could be wrong. (U.S. News &World Report, December 8, 2008). This is the advantage of working with a team of very talented people, he adds.
‘The lowly shall inherit the land’ – they shall possess the eschatological land of Israel (the heavenly Jerusalem), restored by the saving deeds of God (John L. McKenzie).That is, they shall inherit the reign of God in its fullest sense. Christmas points us in this direction for it is Jesus who inaugurated the reign by his birth in that little cave in Bethlehem.
May the blessings of the Christmas season console and encourage you into the New Year.
(December 2008 Newsletter)