February 27, 2020
The Blessing of Being Poor (in spirit)
Matthew 5:3 — “Blessed, are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.”
Two questions to be asked about Christ’s announcement of this quality of life at the beginning need to be addressed. They are related to each other. First, why is poverty of spirit the first item presented by Jesus? Second, what does this mean? Understanding the answers to these two questions, we are able to comprehend why Jesus says to the “poor in spirit” the kingdom of heaven belongs.
By the phrase “poor in spirit,” Jesus does not mean those who do not recognize the value and importance of spiritual reality or lack a desire for God. Rather, he intends by this idiom to describe the most essential feature of a person’s self-understanding and self-conception, which is an awareness of one’s actual “poverty” before God. He is describing those who know in their “spirits” or their deepest self-consciousness just how poor they are before God, how helpless, how incapable of solving the riddle of their lives – namely how much they need God to give them hope and fulfillment. This sense of desperate neediness is not merely a matter of acknowledging one’s awfulness or one’s wickedness or one’s moral failure. A person might not, in fact, be a horribly immoral person in contrast to others and still recognize his or her poverty of spirit.
It is acknowledging that without God we cannot hope to become what we were created to be – and called to be. It is an acknowledgement of God’s beautiful will for us and our usual pitiful contentment with much, much less. The poor in spirit do not come to God saying, “Here I am, accept me and bless me,” but instead are blessed because they realize, accept, and acknowledge that in the presence of God and in the challenges of life they do not have within themselves alone what they most desperately need – God’s life and goodness, purpose and holiness, and character and love, no matter how they look in comparison to other persons. The poor in spirit are those who, like the multitudes that are coming to Jesus for healing, deliverance, and hope in chapter four of Matthew’s Gospel, realize that apart from God working in their lives and circumstances they are wretched and, so, admit their need.
But, why is the kingdom of heaven the possession of these kinds of persons? Note that the statement by Jesus is present tense, not a future promise. The kingdom of heaven is theirs – NOW. God’s reign, purpose, and fulfillment is NOW. It is theirs because the only way we can ever receive God’s purpose and presence – God’s kingdom of love – and begin to live into God’s will and calling, is as a gift. Only those who understand their need in God’s perfect and holy presence, who acknowledge their need for more than what they can produce by themselves, who know they have failed and will fail to live into the glorious calling of God, and who accept that they cannot overcome life’s challenges or their own neediness or the great distance between themselves and God –only these will have the kind of “spirit” that simply says, “I’ll receive you and your presence and purpose and rule in my life as a gift of grace.” The poor in spirit “win” by giving up!
The presence of God in our lives is not something we can earn or presume to possess because of our goodness, or hope is just there in some inescapable sense. God’s presence means his rule over us, his will shaping our actions, and his power enabling us to live as citizens of his kingdom. Only by realizing and continuing to realize our need and inability will we be able to just give up and receive the gift and surrender to the gift and live obediently in the joy of the gift. When we forget we are poor before God’s great holy purposes, we cease our dependence on God.
May God help us always to stay “poor in spirit” that the kingdom of heaven might be our reality.