blessed are the poor in spirit

Claude Lorrain, “The Sermon on the Mount” (1656)
The Frick Collection, New York

Matt. 5:1-12
For Sunday, January 30th, 2011
Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  

These are such familiar words but what do they really mean?  What does it mean to be ‘blessed’?  What does it mean to be ‘poor in spirit’?  What in fact is the kingdom of heaven?

‘Blessed’ means “to be favored”.  God’s favor rests on believers.  While ‘happiness’ is merely an internal feeling experienced inside a person, ‘blessedness’ is an objective reality as seen from the outside looking in.  Ultimately, believers are ‘blessed’ because we are part of God’s eschatalogical plan to restore every good thing to the way it was intended to be (EBC).

‘Poor’ refers to both material and spiritual poverty.  This is why Luke can say ‘blessed are the poor’, Matthew can say ‘blessed are the poor in spirit‘, and yet both point to the same ultimate meaning.  Poor people aren’t troubled by the trappings of wealth and are therefore more inclined to be aware of their own vulnerability and brokenness.  Their blessing is not their poverty but rather their nearness to entering the kingdom of heaven.   The poor in spirit, those aware of their own vulnerability and brokenness, are precisely those most likely to let God in.  

The ‘kingdom of heaven’ is a place where Jesus the Messiah reigns and in which his subjects are blessed.    As Christians we experience a joy that we know innately is not of this world but rather anticipates something far better to come.  This is the kingdom of heaven being manifest within us and among us.  

What is so hard for the rich to understand is that all of us are vulnerable and broken.  This is why it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  Are you feeling vulnerable?  Broken?  Then don’t despair.  It’s going to get better.  God is going to redeem the pain, suffering, and loss.  Ours is the kingdom of heaven.


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