September 22, 2023
Just as Jesus began His ministry, word had spread that He might be the promised Messiah. The Savior of the world all of the prophets had foretold had arrived, and at the sermon on the mount, Jesus’ first and longest recorded teaching, this promised Messiah doesn’t incite a revolution; He instead subverts conventional wisdom and introduces the great paradox of the kingdom of God. And His opening line is this:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:3
Far too often, we have taken this passage (along with each of the subsequent beatitudes) to be mere consolation, Jesus’ comforting words to the lowest of the low. But perhaps Jesus is not simply offering comfort to the poor, mourning, meek, hungry, and so on… perhaps Jesus is calling all of us to practice these postures.
The Greek word for poor here is the word “ptochoi” meaning the “crouching ones” or the “very empty ones” – a reference to the lowest class in their culture. These were the beggars and nobodies on the furthest social margins, and this was the posture he was urging His listeners towards. To be poor in spirit. To possess an inner emptiness and humility, unconcerned with personal righteousness and reputation, neither seeking power nor rebelling against it. This was so counter-culture at the time and is undoubtedly counter-culture today. We spend our lives trying to amass wealth, attain status, surpass rivals, and hold tightly to power. We want to build our kingdoms, and Jesus reminds us that’s a waste. Do not be trapped in the endless cycle of earning, deserving, possessing, and defending. Happy are you who are poor in spirit because you’re the freest, unbound by all these earthly and fleeting things.
Notice the present tense of this blessing: “…Yours IS the Kingdom of Heaven.” The only good and lasting kingdom, the only kingdom worth contributing to, is not something waiting for you but something you can freely enter into and participate in now. Looking back at the creation story as told in Genesis 1, you’ll notice that God sees the goodness of His work most every step of the way. He does, however, make one omission, which is when He separates Heaven and Earth. I don’t believe that omission is just happenstance because He has been enlisting and entrusting us since that separation to help bring heaven to earth. Jesus’ opening line of this sermon is so important because he reveals how we might close the distance. The way we enter into and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven is to be poor in spirit, to be empty.
As I reflect on 2022, I can’t deny what a challenge such a word (empty) and concept was for me. Instead of pouring myself out, I spent most days trying desperately to earn the love and approval of those around me. It was not until the loss of my father in July, and seeing firsthand all that he owned be so quickly sold and given away, that I was suddenly and helplessly aware of how futile anything other than loving others was. His material possessions weren’t so different from my desire to possess status. Every bit of it will one day pass away. The best way to steward what I have is to let it go. Each day forward continues to be a challenge. Emptiness is not yet my default nature. Sometimes it takes greater effort to let go when you’ve grown so accustomed to holding on.
How might approaching this blessing for the poor in spirit as less a consolation and more as a way of life challenge you?
What might God be asking you to let go of to embrace Him more?
Heavenly Father, You are the giver and sustainer of life. How precious it is to steward the life and gifts You have given us to love others and point them towards You. Help us not use the gifts You entrusted us with to build up what will soon pass away. Would we instead be the poor in spirit You have called each of us to be, advancing Your everlasting kingdom. Reveal the parts of us we are unwilling to surrender. Give us the faith, courage, and strength to let go. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
Written by Brooks Joyce, Music Director at Port City Community Church