In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins his teaching ministry on a sort of hill-top. This sermon is notoriously called the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon marked the beginning of the new way to live as a Jesus follower. Fame and power and manipulation and the self-pleasing way of life had to go. No longer would external actions or traditions or rituals be acceptable. What was needed was a change from the inside out.
This entire sermon calls humanity, and me especially, to lay down my understanding and my rights and my way in order to fully embrace the renewed life in Christ.
Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
A dichotomy. Multiplicity of dichotomies.
How can one be poor and blessed? I see success and wealth and health as the blessed life. I’m told more means blessed, not less. I am taught from birth, intentionally or not, that excess equates with blessedness.
Another dichotomy arises when we contrast a state of poverty with the claim to ownership of a Kingdom. How can the poor claim possession of a kingdom? We do not read fairy tales of paupers wearing crowns, or the homeless sitting upon thrones, yet Jesus states clearly that it is those whose spirits are destitute will reign.
A few quick notes.
1. The Jews who heard Jesus would have pictured in their head the poverty that surrounded them. Beggars who would sit by city gates, market places, or the temple and LITERALLY beg in order to live. This is not similar to our poor who have a government who will provide food, shelter and clothing to the needy. There were no 501c3’s running about caring for the impoverished. It was normal people, like you and me, who would obey God’s desire for mercy (Micah 6:8) and give to the poor.
2. Our world is VASTLY different from the world Jesus walked in. The Romans didn’t give a damn about the Jews. They were a conquered people, subject to taxation and Cesar’s laws. The Kingdom of the Romans was all-powerful. They had control of most of the known world by the time Jesus was born. To use colorful language such as “Kingdom of Heaven” would have evoked imagery of an all-powerful Kingdom but the ruler was God, not a man.
As I ponder what the “poor in spirit” life means to me, and the world today, I am asking myself these two questions: 1.) What does a poor spirit look like in real life? 2. How do I begin to walk in, and acknowledge, spiritual poverty while living in a culture of consumer excess?
A final thought: I wonder if having a lot in life makes the “poor spirit” life more difficult? My iPhone recently broke and I noticed an enormous hole in my life. My normal process in life was disrupted. I can not longer sate my need to escape by scrolling any social feed. I do not have instant access to information. Handheld games or banking or photos aren’t a chosen distraction to ease my boredom or sadness or loneliness.
For the last 4 days I have seen that my iPhone was an iDOL. My hearts affection was set on my technology so much that when I had only lacked the device for ONE day Robyn, my wife, noticed a marked improvement in my behavior and attitude. She saw that in my lack something greater had arrived.
I think Jesus wants something greater to arrive in me, He wants me to OWN the Kingdom of Heaven. “It’s yours,” he says, “if you will be spiritually impoverished.”
I want that. I want God’s Kingdom alive in me. My only fear is that it’s going to take a lot of broke idols, and a lot of poverty, in order for me to be allowed to reign. That means a lot less of what I want gratified and a lot more of God’s spirit filling those holes.
What does it mean to be spiritually poor?