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“Happy the gentle; they shall have the earth for their heritage.”
“Happy the gentle; they shall have the earth for their heritage.” (Matthew 5:5)
By any standards Old Testament hero Samson was a tough, rough character: he dispatched 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey; escaped from a besieged city by uprooting its gates and carrying them off; ended his life by pushing over the pillars of the temple of Dagon, to bring it down on himself and all the spectators. For Samson greatness was all about muscle.
It was the 19th Century Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who claimed that in contrast Christianity is a religion of weakness, suitable only for losers. Its emphasis on pity, humbleness, non-violence, appeals to the oppressed, and encourages them to accept their lot. And it has to be acknowledged that this does indeed does seem to be the message of the 8 Beatitudes: be gentle, forgive, make peace, endure persecution, live a lowly life. Nietzsche believed that the world belonged to muscular types who could impose their will on those beneath them. Like it or lump it, he argued, the real world is divided into slaves and masters, the masters dominate, get their way, and enjoy the best things in life.
Samson might well have agreed with Nietzsche, but one day he got a surprise: a swarm of bees had made a hive in the carcass of a lion he had killed, and they produced honey there. The most fearsome of all beasts had somehow transformed into gentleness, and from that gentleness came good. It made Samson think: maybe there are other ways of being strong beyond bashing hapless heads with ass’s jawbones! So Samson coined a proverb on this: ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness’.
Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva, had the same insight. He produced the pithy saying “You will catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than you will with a barrel of vinegar.” Maybe gentleness is more powerful than Nietzsche imagined.
Do we not ourselves admire the kind of person who stands for the right even when they are weak and have to suffer for their principles? And do we not rightly despise the bully who gets his way by force and intimidation, but cowers when resisted?
And surely the proof that gentleness rules the earth is to be found in Jesus himself. Here we have almighty God, the one who is of unlimited power, to whom the mighty deeds of Samson were but child’s play; who could produce earthquakes and hurl thunderbolts to enforce his will. But how does he achieve his objectives? It was by being the servant of all, a healer and a helper, a man who allows himself to be utterly weak and abandoned on the cross. It is He who sways millions, influences statesmen and rulers, but also guides children and comforts the elderly. He showed that meekness working through truth and justice is the strength that prevails. Out of the truly strong there comes forth sweetness.