This Sunday, I am starting a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount, which is of course from Matthew’s Gospel.
This Sunday’s sermon starts, as does the Sermon, with the first beatitude from Matthew: “How blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Is this a teaching? If so, why does Jesus not say, “Become poor in spirit, for then you will be blessed with citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.” But, if it is a teaching, how does anyone obey? How do you make yourself poor in spirit? By trying really hard? And to what does “the spirit” refer here?
Or is this mostly an observation? Or a declaration? Like, “Only those who are poor in spirit can be citizens of the kingdom of heaven.” If it’s merely an observation, what is the point of saying it? To make those of us who are “rich in spirit” feel excluded? Was that ever what Jesus was about?
And what in the world could be blessed and happy about being poor in anything, much less the spirit? Shouldn’t we aspire to be “rich in spirit”?
While this phrase, “poor in spirit” is capable of many understandings, it IS Jesus’ very first declaration in the Great Sermon. And I agree with so many commentators that this phrase is crucial to understanding Jesus’ entire teaching. Which is why it is the very first.
Below are two other pieces of scripture that, for me, are keys to understanding this verse and indeed the entire Sermon.
But after we reach such an understanding of the teaching, we are left with the harder part, which is accepting its truth. Why is it so hard for us to hear and accept that to be “poor in spirit” is blessed?
17Neither is new wine put into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled, and the skins are destroyed; but new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.’
10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus,
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of
all my income.” 13But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be
merciful to me, a sinner!” 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Your brother, Brooks