Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
One of the common beginnings in homiletics is for the preacher to begin with some kind of invitational device to pull her/his listeners into the sermon. Oftentimes it is a joke or a humorous story that creates some kind of bonding between preacher and congregation. Looking at this Sermon on the Mount (By the way, I think we miss much of the humanity and humor of Jesus by not being able to hear him.) the sermon seems, at first glance, to miss this creative device. In fact, the opening words seem to be a bit strident, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
What is Jesus doing here? Who in their right mind would ever want to be poor in anything? Added to that, the Greek only intensifies this beatitude, because the Greek word that is used here is “potochis,” which means abject poverty, the kind of poverty which seems to have no hope. It’s the kind of poverty that you find in a place like Somalia or India or Central America or at our own Texas border, where people are desperate for even a glimmer of hope.
Maybe that is a jumping-off point to the current context for this beatitude. For the first time in most of our lives we have had to think of such a poverty. In these days of coronavirus, these days of uncertainty of what is coming next, these days of maintaining a healthy distance, these disrupted days with little entertainment and few social gatherings, we suddenly realize how fragile we really are, and, most importantly, how much we need God.
Could this beatitude be not so much a harsh disciplining command, but an encouragement to look in and up for our ultimate hope, God Almighty? Jesus was speaking to a people who were so desperate that they followed him, hanging on to his every word, hoping beyond earthly hope. Could those words not be relevant to us today? After all, “beatitude,” the Latin derivation of the Greek, “makarios,” means “oh, the happiness of.” What’s more, this word finds a fuller meaning from the Hebrew notion of blessedness. In Hebrew, blessedness means to find the right way. Thus, “Blessed are you when you are lost and find the right way home.” “Blessed are you when you are confused and you stumble upon the right path.” ”
Could this beatitude be the natural first step toward the Kingdom of Heaven? Could it be that the most vital understanding of reality is found in our relationship to God?
The first beatitude directs us to do just that. In fact, this beatitude is the key which unlocks the door to the rest of the sermon. If we don’t get this beatitude, we’re probably not going to get the rest of them either. What’s more, we’re not going to get much of what Jesus says or does. It is the first thing that he teaches and the teaching that even as he dies, he honors. Jesus begins his ministry and ends his ministry with a declaration of utter reliance on God Almighty. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” ultimately becomes “into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”
In these most difficult and unsettling days, perhaps the best way to see this beatitude is to see it as the invitation of and to grace, that most divine gift of a loving God. Blessed are you when you realize how much you need God. It is the doorway to the Kingdom of Heaven.
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
- Can you sense a poverty of spirit right now, one that in isolation recognizes how isolated you have been from God as well as others?
- Do you know family or friends who need an encouragement in grace? How might you be that encouragement?
- How might a heightened awareness of your need for God change the way you live so that you might be love in this time of uncertainty?
A Guided Prayer: Ted Loder to the First Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia
Gracious and Holy One
creator of all things
and of emptiness,
I come to you
full of much that clutters and distracts,
stifles and burdens me,
and makes me a burden to others.
Empty me now
of growing dissatisfactions,
of anxious imaginings,
of fretful preoccupations,
of nagging prejudices,
of old scores to settle,
and the arrogance of being right.
of the ways I unthinkingly
think of myself as powerless,
as a victim,
as determined by sex, age, race,
as being less than I am,
or as other than yours.
of the disguises and lies
in which I hide myself
from other people
and from my responsibility
for my neighbors
and for the world.
Hollow out in me a space
in which I will find myself,
find peace and a whole heart,
a forgiving spirit and holiness,
the springs of laughter,
and the will to reach boldly
for abundant life for myself
and the whole human family.