As you read and reflect on today’s beatitude, please listen to this track from contemporary Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. We will feature this track throughout Lent.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Imagine how strange, how utterly peculiar this first beatitude must have sounded to Jesus’ disciples: that the poor in spirit are blessed. How strange it sounds to our ears as well. Who would ever have thought that poverty of spirit would be blessed by God! It would sound to most like a curse. Yet Jesus makes poverty of spirit the first in a logical sequence of all His blessings to follow.
There are two words in the Greek New Testament translated as “poor”. One is the word penes which describes a person as poor with nothing to spare. He has zero denarii in his savings, but at least has not yet gone into debt. It is not penes that Jesus used in this beatitude, rather the Greek word ptochos. This word ptochos describes a person so poor that he is destitute, penniless, living in abject poverty under a mountain of debt. That is what makes this beatitude so startling, that Jesus blesses those who are destitute and bankrupt.
Notice that it is not the poor and destitute financially, but the poor in spirit who are blessed. This beatitude has to do with a person’s spiritual attitude before God. John Stott helps us here as he points out that to be poor in spirit “is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, our bankruptcy before God” (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount).
Jesus blesses the poor in spirit who do not trust in their own goodness, but throw themselves upon the infinite goodness of God. And that is what it means to be truly blessed: to always know our utter need for grace. It is this day by day, moment by moment reliance upon God’s goodness that opens to us the riches of kingdom life.
Towards the beginning of my spiritual quest I thought that I might one day arrive. I thought that I might get my act together spiritually. I fancied that with just enough determination, new dedication, and right theology, I would grow beyond the need for amazing grace. But here I am today, spiritually bankrupt before God, a pauper in spirit, rejoicing in being so blessed.
Henri Nouwen, a keen observer of the spiritual life, emphasized the need to own our spiritual neediness: “Those who think they have arrived, have lost their way. Those who think they have reached their goal, have missed it. Those who think they are saints, are demons” (The Genesee Diary).
PONDER AND PRAY
“For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Isaiah 57:15
- Why do you think some people have difficulty admitting that they are spiritually bankrupt and poor? Do you find it difficult to admit that you have not arrived spiritually? If so, why do you think that is?
- On a scale of 0 – 10, how would you rate your spiritual life? Why? How do you feel about that?
- Does this first beatitude sound like good news or bad news to you? Why?
- What do you want To Say To God?