"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Matt. 5:5
When I first saw trailers for Captain America: The First Avenger, I must admit that I was a bit skeptical - from the belligerent militaristic overtones of the gun play to the word "avenger" in the film's title (a word that finds its root in the non-Christian reaction of "vengeance"). But what surprised me was the pure heart that lay at the center of this classic comic-book superhero movie.
During the first third of the film, we see the era of the Second World War through the innocent eyes of a short, often-ignored young adult by the name of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans with a CG-altered body reduction). Poor Steve, meek and mild compared to the fighting boys making their way to the War, is regularly beaten up in Brooklyn alleys and rejected by most of the young women who come in contact with him... yet all the while, he maintains a pure and loving heart. He does not harbor anger, bitterness, or regret. Instead, he desires only to do the right thing and extend compassion to all around him.
It is this scrawny young man with a heart of gold, then, that truly stays with us through the entire movie - even after scientists and military brass inject Rogers with a special serum that amplifies his cellular structure, making him a "super soldier." For underneath the newfound brawn and muscle still beats the heart of someone whom Jesus once extended his love towards: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." (Mt. 5:5).
Rogers' meekness taught him some valuable lessons... principles that would give him a strength beyond the strongest soldier on the battlefield. When asked if he wanted to kill Nazis (an easy question asked in movies many times before to a chorus of "oh yeah!" by many a film character), Rogers responds "I don't want to kill anyone. I just don't like bullies." Even against one of the most vicious enemies our world has ever known, Rogers has learned that killing is no answer. However, at the same time, those who disregard the dignity of life - and oppress and persecute those weaker or different than they are - must be brought to justice and accountability. And when a grenade threatens to kills a platoon of soldiers, it is the meek and mild Rogers that sacrifices himself for the sake of others - proving his understanding of selflessness and love for all God's people (even those who just recently persecuted him).
This is what true heroism is all about. No impenetrable shield or six-pack of stomach muscles comes close to the strength of the gospel if truly lived out in daily life.
Blessed are the meek, says Jesus. This familiar beatitude rolls off the tongue so easily, but what does it really mean? Blessed are those who are ignored, rejected, persecuted, beaten down, overwhelmed, physically or emotionally weak, less-than-perfect, absent-minded, poverty-stricken, shy and quiet. Blessed are the ones that we often forget or the acquaintances that barely register in our memory. Blessed are the people who are laughed at for their mistakes or their appearances. Blessed are those who get picked last on the sports team or those who can't seem to get ahead in their work or their classes. Blessed are those with two left feet or those considered unattractive. Yes, blessed are all those people - believe it or not.
Jesus says that it is these people, from whom the world has taken so much away, that will ultimately be first in God's eyes.
This beatitude, which we often overlook each time we hear it, is perhaps one of the greatest challenges Jesus offers us. Do we contribute to the persecution and frustration of the meek? Do we cause those who are meek to fall into sadness and depression? Do we forget the meek as we go throughout our daily lives? If we have ever done that, and in some respects we may all be guilty of this oversight or neglect from time to time, Jesus challenges us to help the meek inherit the earth.
In the film, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) took a chance on the meek - and lifted them up higher than any special serum could ever do. Perhaps it was because they themselves were once put down (as a woman or as a Jew), but they were able to respond well to Christ's challenge to love and look out for the meek.
This beatitude (and the film) also offers us another challenge: if we find ourselves in the role of the meek person, what are we to do? Take vengeance on our persecutors? Sulk in bitterness and anger? Give up on any hope for a brighter future? No... we are called to turn the other cheek, respond in love, show kindness to our enemies, and above all, be selfless and sacrificial on behalf of one another (even those who put us down). The meek will gain their strength when they live life as if they were the strongest person - because in so doing, they really do inherit the earth. Their strength is what lies beneath the meekness - a strength embodied by Jesus of Nazareth and all the saints from Christ's time to our own.
Blessed are the meek like Steve Rogers. Blessed are the meek who occupy our daily routines - the forgotten ones, the persecuted ones, and the unloved ones - for we are called by Christ to lift them up. And blessed are us when we are meek, for if we live by the tenets of the gospel, we will have an impenetrable shield beyond price: the promise of salvation.