Matthew 5:3 reads:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (NASB)
One must assume that Jesus knew what he was doing when he put this Beatitude first in the list. Blessed are the poor in Spirit. Luke’s record shortens this saying to simply, “blessed are you who are poor” dropping the qualifier “in spirit.”
Most of us spend a majority of our time and energy in an effort to avoid being poor, so this blessing seems to be at odds with our understanding of what life is about. Is Jesus talking about material poverty? Or does the qualifier in Matthew force us to limit our application of this blessing to the spiritual realm only?
The third possibility is that material poverty and spiritual poverty are connected in some way.
The word that is translated “poor” conveys the root meaning of “crouch” or “cringe” and carries the sense of absolute destitution. This is the word used to describe Lazarus in Luke 16:20. To be poor in this sense is to be without resources.
In Matthew 19:23 and Luke 18:24 Jesus indicated that it is particularly difficult for those who are rich to enter the Kingdom of God. Why is this? Certainly it is not because the rich are necessarily more evil than the poor. It is not because God’s grace is insufficient to save a rich man. And it is certainly not because God loves the rich any less than he loves the poor.
It is easier for those with material prosperity to maintain the illusion of control in their lives. They can think that they have achieved their wealth by their own effort and skill, and as a result they may be more likely to think that no-one else’s help is required. They are susceptible to thinking that they are self sufficient.
The good news of the Gospel is that we can inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, the precise blessing associated with being poor in spirit. Why do those without resources have an advantage in gaining the kingdom?
To appropriate the good news first requires that bad news is understood and accepted. The bad news is that without the work of Jesus on the cross, I am not able to attain entrance into Heaven. I must first admit my inability to make myself worthy of Heaven before I can accept the offer of salvation from Jesus. To achieve spiritual health, I must first acknowledge my disease and accept the cure.
This is precisely where the poor have an advantage. They do not have any pretense about whether they are in control. They are dependent upon others for their day to day existence. It is much easier for them to acknowledge their need of a a physical and a spiritual savior. Their eyes are not clouded by their material possessions.
I suppose the take-away for those of us in Western Society, who are rich enough to afford computers or access the internet, is that we cannot let our resources inhibit our relationship with God. It is so easy to be distracted in obtaining and maintaining stuff, that we can forget the God who made the stuff possible.
It is my belief that one can have wealth and still be poor in spirit, but it is difficult. Being poor in spirit is to come to terms with our helplessness in the spiritual realm and seeking the one who promised to never leave us (Matthew 28:20).
Throughout the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows us how helpless we really are. If we are honest when reading this sermon, our eyes will be opened to what true righteousness is and we will be forced to admit how far short of the standard we fall.
As we move forward in the study of the amazing sermon, may it cause us to realize our poverty and turn to the one who promises spiritual riches (Ephesians 1:18).