"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
I have glimpsed the world’s poverty. From the precarious shanties of Lima to the sweltering slums of Manila to the barren mud huts of rural Ethiopia, I have seen people cope with subsistence living. One thing that has struck me, though, is that most of the people I have met in those situations have a sense of dignity. They earn what they can and, with deep gratitude, accept whatever is given. What really tears at my heart are the street beggars. They have set aside any pride and dignity to beg for whatever they can get. They are totally dependent upon whoever happens by. They are at the mercy of someone else’s goodness.
In Matthew 5:3, Jesus begins his sermon on the mount by proclaiming that those who are poor in spirit are blessed. This is his first statement in his first major discourse of his earthly ministry. I’m guessing it’s pretty important. He seems to be laying a foundation. So why does Jesus start with this characteristic of being “poor in spirit”? What does that mean?
When he says “in spirit”, it means my vital principle. It is the very core of who I am. I am blessed if, at my very essence, I am poverty-stricken. That word “poor” means a beggar. The literal meaning of the word is to crouch or cringe. It is the physical posture of someone who is a beggar. They place themselves in a vulnerable physical position that shows absolute dependence on the generosity of another.
Jesus does not ask us to become a beggar or to act like we are poor. He wants us to realize that we already are a beggar before God. We crouch before him with nothing. Everything I possess, every passion, talent and gift comes from him. God doesn’t complete me, like some sought after lover. He creates me and endows me with all that I am. Without him I have nothing but with him I have everything. I am at the mercy of someone else’s goodness and he is truly good.
In Rev 3:17, Jesus says to the church at Laodicea, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” ESV
Being poor in spirit is not an action. It’s not something I choose to do. I don’t even think it is something I can choose to be. It is not an attitude. It is a realization. I come to an understanding of what is already true about me. It is what God says about my state before Him. I am spiritually bankrupt. I am a beggar before God. What do I bring to the table? Nothing. Everything good that I have to offer has already come from God. I am totally and completely dependent upon Him for all that I am. When I live in that truth of dependence, I am blessed.
The cool thing is that, while I bring nothing, God brings everything. He brings his kingdom. He approaches this beggar on the sidewalk and reaches out his hands to mine. As he lifts me to my feet, he looks directly into my eyes and says, “You have nothing to bring to me, but I have something to bring to you. It’s my kingdom. Here, it’s yours.” I am a citizen of this kingdom right now. I possess eternal life. I have been given dignity, worth, riches, power and purpose. He has established me as an ambassador to represent him to those around me.
That sounds like blessing to me.