The Poor in Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me”

Contrary to popular opinion, the agony of the soul is not a concept invented by Evangelicals to guilt people into converting to Christianity. One’s awareness of wrongdoing, or indeed of not being right, is as ancient as human thought. It’s often this sense of wrong-ness which points a person to believe in a god. I don’t want you to think I am writing exclusively about wrong actions or even thoughts so much as the sense of the Separation many recognise in varying degrees.

Indeed, some of the Bible’s most profound writing is scratched out in pain:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:16-17)

I believe this Separation causes the soul of a person great anguish if they were to dwell on it for long enough. Even I can feel it, and I haven’t even been alive long enough to regret anything!

So. The poverty of the spirit. For some reason this is the first need Jesus perceives as he looks out at his crowd on the mountainside. After leading them up a mountain he could have said

“Blessed are those who follow me, for they shall forever hear my voice”

This is not Jesus’ first announcement.

His first announcement is for the poor in spirit. It’s vague and subjective enough that it could apply to anyone and to no-one. Within earshot, there could be those who have become overwhelmed with the things of life and find their hearts crushed. Do they find hope in these words? What about the good people who do their best? Would they feel some resentment for this honour the sinners receive?

I can almost imagine a man who hears these words and walks away, only for his life to fall apart around him. He remembers what Jesus says, and maybe there is comfort. Or would there be confusion and frustration? Would he, from the bottom of the bottle, hear a voice of hope or of naive ideology?

These poor in spirit, they are blessed. The Kingdom of Heaven is for them. This is not a new promise. It is as ancient as that soul-anguish described above.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.
(Isaiah 57:15)

This kingdom, the one which Jesus announced, has the broken as a first priority. I wonder how the disciples would absorb this teaching? Is Jesus telling us, in the Church, how we ought the prioritise our efforts?

Check back tomorrow for more.

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4 Comments

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  1. Is a person who is poor in spirit bemoaning his state – or is he realising his need for a saviour? Isaiah 57 would appear to confirm the second. Self-centredness (thinking and dwelling on ourselves and our state) doesn’t get us into the Kingdom – acknowledging the saviour does. So am not sure that what was on Jesus’ mind was all those who were moaning and groaning about the situation they find themselves in and those regretting past and present events. If this was an entry ticket to the kingdom then everyone on the planet today would already be in the kingdom!!

    These are surely conditions for joining the kingdom – not appeases to comfort the audience?

    As we know – once the people had truly thought through what Jesus was actually saying they wanted non of it, so the message didn’t change only people’s realisation of what it actually meant as you have already said.

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    • I agree that to be poor in spirit is to realise our need for a saviour. However, bemoaning our state (made apparent by God’s law – Psalm 130:3-4) is the catalyst. Those with the greater spiritual need are most likely to perceive their need and therefore depend on God alone and not their own goodness. Paul notes the same principle in Romans 9:30-31.

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      • I would actually change the language of your first statement: Poverty of spirit is the realisation that one is not as he should be. Sometimes people don’t know what salvation is, but they know they need something outside of themselves to make them complete.

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    • “Is a person who is poor in spirit bemoaning his state – or is he realising his need for a saviour?”

      Does it matter? Jesus seems not to specify. His prime concern is that the poor in spirit… whoever they are… know that God’s kingdom is for them.

      Regret is the first step in realising that we are not what we should be. It’s natural to bemoan it.

      There is something miraculous when a person examines their soul and sees the lack within it, and cries out for relief. Is that selfish and introspective? Yes. That is why it’s grace.

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