[reprinted from January 14, 2011]
Seeing the multitudes, he went up onto the mountain. When he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He opened his mouth and taught them, saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Matthew 5:1-3 (WEB)
I have never been to Israel but if I ever went, the mountain is one of the places I would want to go. It is my idea of heaven…sitting on a mountainside, listening to Jesus. Tradition tells me that teachers of the day taught from a sitting position. They did not pace in front of their students or stand behind a podium in a position of dominance. They sat down and spoke.
Luke tells us in his gospel (Luke 4:18) that Jesus came out of the desert, went to the synagogue and gave His first teaching from Isaiah, proclaiming that He came to preach the good news to the poor. Here we have Matthew reporting Jesus’ first teaching and that the first group that will be blessed are those who are poor in spirit. What does that mean? What does it mean to lack or be in need in your spirit?
I think when Jesus sat down and looked out over this crowd, He saw the salt of the earth. He did not see any kings. He did not see soldiers. I bet if there were any Scribes and Pharisees there – they would have been standing in the back (with their arms folded!). Those who were seated and waiting with expectation were at the end of their rope. They had little in earthly possessions. They had been taught that only those in favor with God were blessed with great wealth. Perfect offerings in the temple cost money! These people truly were in doubt about their relationship with God because of their station in life. They truly were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).
Jesus is stating these people are the very ones for whom God is building a kingdom. He is telling them that “down is up”! (By the way, I suspect the Scribes and Pharisees were hearing that “up is down”!) Jesus has proclaimed Hope in this promise.
“Poor in spirit” is a malady in our 21st century to be avoided. Even if you have very little in the natural, the world tells us that we are important. The need of the individual always outweighs the need of the many. I am encouraged to align myself with an identifiable group and proclaim my status. P-R-I-D-E.
Jesus shows me how to surrender. He shows me how to be obedient, even to death on a cross. Jesus shows me how to be a servant. If I want to be great in God’s Kingdom then I need to put on my apron and start washing some feet.
Jesus proclaims this blessing when I know I am nothing and God is everything. When I am poor, Jesus proclaims me to be rich. I have had times in my life when I listened to what others thought or judged me to be. I have listened to the nasty, sneaky voice in my head who recalled every time I made a mistake or the wrong decision. It’s like leaving an audio recording on continuous loop. Jesus is reminding me He has paid the price for all those “mistakes” (sins) and He has picked me up and blessed me. In His power, I need to tell the voice in my head to “shut up” and listen only to His voice. It is His words that are Life.
The Prayer Anthem sung by Carmen