Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
These words of Jesus are the opening lines of that rich treasure of Matthew’s Gospel we know as the Sermon on the Mount.
The “beatitudes,” as we often refer to them, seem to be Jesus’ way of capturing the interest of those who are listening to his preaching. The trap is simple and subtle at the same time. It sounds like Jesus is setting up the conditions of God’s blessings, rather than actually blessing his hearers.
As you think about what it means to be poor in spirit it makes you wonder why you are blessed when you are poor in spirit. It is thought provoking to say the least. When I hear “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” I tend to think, “Am I poor enough in spirit?” or “I should try to be more poor in spirit.” Perhaps Jesus is not setting up some kind of law that says I must be poor in spirit but perhaps he is blessing me right now in my present spiritual condition.
When I read them again this week, I began to wonder whether our difficulty with the Beatitudes isn’t symptomatic of a bigger problem that most of us have; namely, that we are far less able to believe that God wants to bless us than God desires to bless us.. Maybe we have a hard time believing God wants to bless us in the first place. It may be that we have a distorted picture of God.
Could it be that we imagine God so much as a stern, demanding law-giver, and so it seems out of character for God to bless us without some requirement. That is the way our world works, right? However it is not the primary picture of God that the Bible give us. But, it may be the one that we were taught and have a hard time changing when we think of God’s relationship with us.
Also, maybe it’s not that we think of God only in terms of a demanding law giver and don’t recognize God’s grace. Maybe it’s that we know ourselves too well to think that we worthy of God’s grace. After all, we are very familiar with our faults and limitations, our insecurities and failures. Knowing ourselves this well — and knowing that God knows us even better, we may find it hard to believe God loves us unconditionally in spite of being poor in spirit. There is hardly anything in our world that is unconditional. We’re used to paying for our mistakes, toeing the line and reaping the consequences when we don’t. It is downright unsettling and almost inconceivable to think that God sees things differently.
Jesus want us to know that it is God’s habit to shower us with blessing, which is not based on anything we have done, earned, or deserve. This is God’s grace, God’s love for you and me.
Believe it my friends, we are all poor in spirit. God is giving you the kingdom!
- How often do you recognize your need for God’s grace, daily, weekly, only when you have a serious problem?
- Do you know any others who need to know that God loves them unconditionally?
- How can you help others recognize and accept that God loves them unconditionally?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.