“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:3
Sometimes when I’m really out of sorts, my friends will remind me of how truly blessed I am, how much I have to be thankful for. But this always feels like an evasion to me, like they’re not giving my “pain and suffering” its due. They’re looking for what is going well in my life, doing the math, and then deciding I’ve got more going for me in the blessed column than in the poor in spirit one, so blessed it is.
I don’t know how the word blessed hit Jesus’s disciples on the hillside that day or how it landed on the crowds, but I can’t imagine it was the first word the sick, lame, shunned, or hungry expected to hear Him speak to them that day. And Jesus wasn’t using the word to convince them that the good things in their life outweighed the bad, that they were more blessed than not. He was declaring those in His kingdom as wholesale flourishing.
Think of that word hanging out there over a Jewish people hobbling under Roman oppression. The ones who for centuries had been pining for a powerful Messiah in the image of King David to knock their enemies out of the land. Surely some had followed Jesus out of curiosity but most out of pure desperation. Some were longing for a new leader who could help them figure out how to get back on the God of Israel’s good side, someone with a solid campaign slogan. Some may have showed up hoping to hear a strategic and gutsy military plan: Who’s ready to defeat Rome once and for all? Strap on your swords! Others may have been looking for something more personal and close to home, like a much needed healing or handout.
The word itself is not an unusual opener. It’s only shocking when you think about whom He addressed it to: the poor in spirit, mourners, stomped on, hungry, innocent, persecuted. Well, now, this just feels like madness. How can the poor in spirit be the blessed ones? In what kind of a world, in what kind of a kingdom, in what kind of a religion, has this ever been so?
Before we consider an answer, it is worth asking, Why are you here? Why have you come to listen to the words of Jesus?
Are you looking for Him to overpower someone who has wounded you? Is a family member sick and in need of healing? Are finances tight? Is work unfulfilling? Is your marriage suffering? Are you simply tired of the grind, like the average Jewish peasant in first-century Galilee looking for a sustaining word of encouragement, a change in the political land
scape? Perhaps you’re not looking for anything from Him as much as you simply want to be with Him and listen to what He has to say. Note that the “them” Jesus begins to teach in verse 2 appear to be His disciples. But at the end of His message, it was the crowds who were astonished at His teaching (Matt. 7:28). We should establish at the outset that both disciples and undecideds are invited to listen. Whichever you are, I’m glad you’re here.
But back to our question. How can people like the poor in spirit be blessed? In the original language, the word for “blessed” is makarios, and it means “prospering, fortunate, flourishing,” and in some cases, “downright happy.” (This is different from the word used when someone pronounces a blessing on another, translated eulogeo). Makarios is a description of the state of a person who is thriving in the kingdom of God. So Jesus isn’t saying that the poor in spirit will eventually gain a blessing. He is saying that their current state of being is a prosperous one because God’s kingdom is theirs. In fact, in every case of the nine Beatitudes, a difficult state of being is paired with a promise of blessing.
So if you’re struggling or hurting today, may Jesus redefine your circumstances as only He can. If you find yourself poor in spirit, malnourished by the “blessings” of our culture, you’re in prime position to experience the blessed life of the kingdom.
Ask Him to teach you and show you what it means to flourish in whatever your circumstances. Look for Him to answer you as you go about Your day. He is eager to meet you in it.
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