“Blessed are the poor in spirit, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
There are at least three words for poor in Greek. One word would be used to describe the contrast between the rich and everybody else. One word would be used to describe those folks who struggled to get by, often going without. But Jesus’ word here is πτωχός, folks who could not get by without help, or, the beggarly poor.
Jesus’ Use of Poor in Spirit
Poor in spirit describes people who stand before the Kingdom of God and recognize how totally disqualified they are (in and of themselves) to participate in that Kingdom. They understand their poverty of spirit, their spiritual bankruptcy, and their brokenness before God. They stand before God in their helplessness and need, spiritually speaking, and know that their only hope is for God to accept them in spite of all that they are not. We stand as beggars before the door and hope in God’s grace.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were largely incapable of this. They assumed an air of self-accomplishment, careful not only to keep the 10 Commandments, but also to strictly observe the 613 traditions of the elders. They saw themselves as the paradigm for what Yahweh, God the Father, expected. Unable to see their need, they could not accept God’s own Son sent to be their Savior.
But according to Jesus, it is only when we can acknowledge our need that the resources of the Kingdom are accessible to our lives. This is not unlike step 1 in a twelve-step program for alcoholics or addicts: We admitted that we were powerless…that our lives had become unmanageable!
Poverty of spirit is where one starts in the Kingdom. Like the path to the Holy Grail in an Indiana Jones movie, only the penitent man may pass…
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third post in a series exploring the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12. Read the last post on “The Beatitudes: Blessed Are….”
The series is based on Dr. Bill Fowler’s Gilhousen Lecture given July 14, 2020 at YTI. Watch the entire lecture on Facebook here.