You have covered this text fully, Mike, and I don’t have much to offer. Let me just add a few comments around the edges.
Regarding Jesus substituting “earth” for “land.” The Hebrew word eretz is used three times in Psalm 37 (verses 11, 22, and 29), and in all three “earth” is an accurate translation. We see the same thing in Psalm 24:1: The earth is HaShem’s, and the fullness thereof. The Hebrew is again eretz, and it clearly means the whole planet. So Jesus is operating well within the Jewish tradition when he says the meek will inherit the earth.
Who are the meek? Psalm 37 tells us that to be counted among the anavim, the meek, one must trust in God, refrain from competing with those who do evil, avoid anger, practice generosity, cultivate grace, turn from evil and do good, and speak wisdom and justice.
I am drawn to verse 3, Trust in HaShem and do good; and verse 27, Turn from evil and do good. The parallel form suggests that you demonstrate your trust in God by turning from evil and doing good. Surrounded by evil the temptation is to battle it, and when we do we inevitably come to imitate it. Torah and Jesus offer us an alternative. Torah calls it turning from evil, Jesus calls it nonresistance.
Jesus says, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him you’re your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles (Mathew 5:39-41).
These are bold acts of nonviolent revolutionaries.
Why does Jesus specifically mention the “right cheek”? Because Roman occupation law allowed Roman soldiers to strike Jews backhanded on the right cheek. Slapping someone on the left cheek was done only among equals. Jesus is saying, “Do not acquiesce to being treated like a dog. If they are going to hit you, dare them to hit you like a fellow human.”
The same is true of walking the extra mile. Roman occupation law permitted soldiers to force a Jew to carry his gear for up to one mile. Jesus is saying, “Don’t resist the first mile, but don’t let them treat you like a mule, carry the gear as a human being by freely going the second mile.”
It isn’t only the injustice of Roman that Jesus confronts, but the injustice of the Jewish courts as well. In an economic system that exploits the poor and powerless, Jesus says, “If they take our outer wear, give them your underwear as well, and walk naked into the street that all may see the moral corruption of the courts and those who uphold them.”
This is what it is to be anav, meek. Through bold acts of nonviolence the anavim reveal just how immoral the system is, and in this way bring about its collapse under the weight of its own immorality.
The game Jesus challenges us to opt out of, then, is not the game of life in general, but the game of exploitation, oppression, suppression, and evil that comes to dominate life of so many societies.