Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Matthew 5:3
Throughout Jesus’ ministry we’re shown a way of living that flips the world upside down; the last come first; the marginalised are included; the invisible are seen. And the beatitudes are definitely some of Jesus’ teachings that cause us to stop and think about what Jesus is saying to those choosing to follow him.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? How does something that sounds bad become something positive? In Luke’s gospel we read ‘blessed are the poor’, but Matthew’s version speaks specifically of ‘the poor in spirit’. Both Matthew and Luke echo Isaiah 61, in which the Hebrew ‘poor’ combines the economically poor and spiritually humble. But Matthew’s version highlights the danger of thinking that poverty is a virtue, and rejects any interpretation where poverty can be justified on any future (heavenly) reward. We are reminded that there is nothing beautiful about poverty; just ask anyone struggling to pay bills, uncertain where their next meal will come from, or living on the streets.
Being ‘poor in spirit’, then, asks us to acknowledge our own inner poverty, and recognise our need for God. In accepting our frail humanity, and trusting in God’s love to meet us where we’re at, we are reoriented to the reality of the kingdom.
A concern for justice, specifically justice for the poor and oppressed, is woven into the very fabric of Israel’s Law, the Psalms and all God’s prophets. Throughout Scripture, God’s goodness is most often revealed when the conditions of poverty are eliminated.
Poverty should never be idealised; its mere existence should encourage us to work for justice. If the poor in spirit have turned their lives over to God, then we accept our responsibility to join in the divine activity of bringing about the Kingdom of God, including bringing justice to situations of poverty and injustice.
Lord, reveal your justice, blessings, and provision to a world in need. Let us recognise our own spiritual poverty and be dedicated to a reordering of your creation. Help us to become true life-giving followers of Jesus and a creative witness for justice in the world. Amen
Written by Michaila Roberts