Withdrawal of American and allied forces from Afghanistan is something Jesus saw coming. No, he did not specifically predict anything that is happening in the twenty-first century. But in his mountaintop manifesto by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus set out a paradigm of hope for the powerless in the face of empire: the meek will inherit the land.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” is not the beatitude of Jesus most familiar to us. We often hear about Jesus’ blessing on peacemakers, but not much about the meek.
Palestinian pastor and scholar Mitri Raheb explores this teaching in his book Faith in the Face of Empire (Orbis, 2014). In the meekness beatitude, Raheb says, Jesus is alluding to Psalm 37:11, which declares that the meek will inherit the land—not just any land, but the land of Palestine that had been overrun by empires.
Raheb rehearses the stream of empires that conquered Palestine: Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Ottomans, British. “None of those empires lasted in Palestine forever,” Raheb says. “They came and stayed for fifty, one hundred, two hundred, a maximum of four hundred years, but in the end they were all blown away. . . When empires collapse and depart, it is the poor and meek who remain.”
There is little reason to think that the Taliban are the meek of Afghanistan. There is much about Afghanistan to grieve: the enormous waste of human life and happiness during decades of war, the hubris of the United States in thinking democracy could be imposed, the enduring emotional and physical wounds, the subjugation of women and minorities, the poverty and loss of infrastructure.
But another empire—which looked indomitable twenty years ago—is leaving Afghanistan. If the Taliban run an imperial and rapacious government, they too will fall. Imperial or oppressive rule, whether in Afghanistan or Palestine or elsewhere, eventually will fail. Jesus was right: in the end, empires collapse or withdraw, and the meek inherit the land.
Both tours to Bible lands that I expected to lead in 2021 have been cancelled because of the pandemic. God willing, I expect to lead Thy Kingdom Come–Jordan, Palestine, Israel (https://tourmagination.com/tour/2022-jordan-palestine-israel/) in May/June 2022 and Journey of Hope: Jordan, Israel, Palestine Biblical Tour (https://tourmagination.com/tour/2023-journey-of-hope-jordan-israel-palestine-biblical-tour/) in September 2023. Would love to have you join one of these pilgrim bands!
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Nelson: Your creative comments remind me that power has limitations, given time, becoming weak, overreaching, dismantling itself. At least twice in Afghanistan (Russia, US) “empire” was sent packing.
In addition to the Soviet Union and the United States, the following empires invaded Afghanistan and mostly failed to govern: Alexander the Great, the Mongol Empire (Genghis Khan), the Persian empire, and the British Empire.
Nelson, this article is an off base exegesis of Matthew 5:5…. I grew up in a Lancaster Mennonite Church and am an alum of EMC/EMS. Ken Fellenbaum
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Thanks for your comment, Ken. Can you elaborate?
Nelson, Tks for opportunity to respond(impressive site). 2 questions: Who are the “meek” & what will they “inherit”? Hard to say for certain but judging from history I’d be inclined to anticipate that this will be in Christ’s Kingdom – the Milllennium (Isa 11:6)
Ken: Thanks for your comments. Yes, in the eschaton the meek will inherit the kingdom. For me there often is tension between “already” and “not yet.” I hesitate to push off social justice only into some distant future. On some level the kingdom of God already is “among us” (Luke 17:20-21), but certainly not yet here in its fullness. The “meek” are orphans, widows, resident aliens, peasants, exploited workers, minorities, Native Americans and other oppressed peoples of the earth. “Inherit” means to live in the land in safety, harmony and right relationships.
John Dear writes in They Will Inherit the Earth that when the Bible refers to the meek, one interpretation can be that this is “the nonviolent.” An interesting possibility.