When I read, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3), I picture a very “mouse-y” looking individual with a bit of a hang-dog expression and a downcast face. I envision the cartoon character Sad Sack or a shy and withdrawn Wilbur Q. Milquetoast type of person who doesn’t make a ruckus, barely looks you in the eye, a person who can literally fade into the background without much trouble.
It is hard for me to imagine how such a person could receive something as powerful and dynamic as God’s Kingdom. And I really struggle to understand how we are supposed to be poor in spirit when Jesus has given us this stupendous promise that whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these. (John 14:12)
Why would the God of all creation who has literally promised that everything He has is ours and that we will be with Him when our work in this world is done? Why would He want us to feel poor or be poor in any sense of the word?
Give It All Away
There are those who are quick to read Blessed are the poor and jump to the conclusion that Jesus is telling us to surrender all our financial gain and worldly possessions so that nothing comes between us and God. It kind of makes sense! After all, Jesus did tell the rich young ruler as much in Matthew 19 when he asked the Master how he could obtain eternal life: sell your possession and give to the poor…you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me (Matthew 19:21). So perhaps, for some, like Francesco di Bernardòne, this is indeed their calling.
Francesco was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. Growing up among the privileged of Italy in the late 1100s, he had a vision that Christ was calling him to turn his back on his rich upbringing and his life of youthful excess to devote himself to serving the poor. St. Francis of Assisi (as he became known) founded the Franciscan order of monks who take their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience VERY seriously indeed. They devote their lives to shunning riches and giving to others through living a life of utter simplicity.
While Jesus often spoke against the danger of accumulating riches (as in this morning’s Scripture), in the Beatitudes it would seem that He is far more concerned with spiritual realities than our material possessions. If that is true, then what does it mean to be spiritually poor?
Poor in Spirit
To be poor in spirit is to recognize our complete and total bankruptcy before God. It is understanding that we have absolutely NOTHING of worth to present to the King of Kings. Unlike the Magi who came to worship at the manger, we do not have a single gift to lay before the Christ Child.
Because of our basic sinfulness and self-centeredness, we have nothing to offer and no way to save ourselves from God’s judgment and condemnation. As Paul wrote ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) There is NONE that are righteous—no, not one. (Romans 3:12)
When Jesus declares blessed are the poor in spirit, He is telling us that before we can enter into God’s Kingdom, we need to recognize that we do not have a single coin in our spiritual change purse that can “buy” our way into God’s good graces. We need to acknowledge that there is not a single thing we can say or do in order to save ourselves in God’s eyes.
In and of ourselves, we are simply “not enough”! We are not rich enough, good enough, holy enough, perfect enough to be part of God’s forever family. No matter how hard we try to be strong in the world’s eyes, we can never measure up to what God want us to be. Measuring ourselves by the world’s standards and constantly reaching for “more” will never bring us any closer to heaven’s door.
God never meant for us to take pride in our humility. He does not want us to be like Little Jack Horner patting ourselves on the back and saying “What a good boy/girl/person am I!” So what are some characteristics of one who is poor in spirit?
This is best characterized as a lack of pride in one’s own accomplishments. The humble individual is willing to do more than their share of the work and take less than their share of the credit.
They prefer to be about their Father’s business quietly and without fanfare and are perfectly content to labor in the background. They do not need to erect a billboard or take out a newspaper ad to publicize their piety. As the Master taught in Matthew 6, When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you…let your alms…be in secret and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:2,4)
This is willingness to serve God wherever you find yourself. For the truly poor in spirit, washing dishes in a soup kitchen is as every bit as blessed as preaching in a great church or singing a solo before an appreciative audience. It is not what you do or even who you do it for. It is instead about how you do it with an eye toward pleasing God…and no one else.
The truly poor in spirit does not seek to be anything great in the eyes of the world or in his own. This quiet obedience is neither aggressive nor demanding. It is a willingness to be content wherever God sees fit to put us, whether among the crowded masses or in a solitary place.
Sense of Calm Purpose
Time is a precious commodity that should not be wasted. The poor in spirit is aware of the finite amount of time God has given to each of us. We have only 24 hours a day, a mere 1,440 minutes to be about our Father’s business. Not one of us knows the number of months or years that God has allotted to us. We only have this day to call ours and do what God has called us to do. As Paul advised the Ephesians, we should be very careful, then how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity. (Ephesians 5:15-16)
God wants us to become LESS so that Christ can become MORE! He wants us to take a backseat to His Son. Life John the Baptists said, He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30) That is the whole point of the lesson in the Sermon on the Mount. In the same way, let your light shine before others…WHY? So that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.(Matthew 5:16)
Blessed…highly favored…living in God’s presence…are those who, like the apostle Paul, have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (Philippians 4:11). Blessed are those who live lives of humble service, quiet obedience and calm purpose seeking the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom, in all its power and fullness, shall be theirs.