Blessed Are: The Poor in Spirit

Yes, we’ve been here before.  In many ways this passage holds the essence of the entire teaching of Jesus, which is to love.  To love everyone.  Love, with a capital L.  And to do so now, at this very moment. Not in some imagined better future, but now.  Blessed Are.  Now.  

These are some beautiful translations: 

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

Happy are the people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.  

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God.  

Happy Birthday America

There’s a lot of variations on this.  The message is very different and yet, also the same.  You might already know that the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew says: “poor in spirit”.   In Luke this first line of the sermon are variations on “blessed are you who are poor”. Matthew adds the “in spirit”.  There’s a big difference between poor and poor in spirit.  Yet, both are radical and both are connected.  

The Sermon on the Mount turned the world upside down.  From the very first word, Blessed, Jesus was challenging his listeners.  From the first two words, it was radical, Blessed are; we aren’t waiting for some distant wonderful time when God will fix everything.  We are already blessed and now.  

Now, we read it and say “Oh yeah, that’s lovely” or we at least aren’t surprised or shocked by it. Well, maybe we do still struggle to find the blessings in our lives right now, at this moment, but we know they are there and we aren’t surprised we should be looking for them.  Then, it was shockingly new.  

First words are very important in ancient stories and writings.  Remember that these all come out of an oral traditions.  Remembering what was said matters, so things tended to be concise and every word important.  Especially the first words. 

Blessed.  Blessed are.  

In Jesus’s time a blessing meant…wealth.  Money.  Perhaps power.  May blessings shower upon you.  This meant, usually, money.  Jesus turned this all…upside down with the Sermon on the Mount. 

Blessed are…the poor?  He’ll go on.  He’ll bless the meek, the hungry, the gentle, the merciful.  He turns the word blessed into something new.  Something that belongs to everyone and perhaps the overlooked most of all.  

Jesus opens our eyes to see.  Even now.  He challenges us to rethink what we believe and how we behave and what’s important.  Monetary wealth is fleeting.  Jesus challenges us to see what is real wealth.  

The poor.  He still challenges us.  We still seek money and wealth.  We call it security.  There is nothing wrong with accumulating wealth, that’s not the point.  That’s just money (although it’s best not to hoard it).  And a little bit of security allows us to better do good work in the world.  We’re not challenging, or arguing, money (and it’s best to be sure we have a healthy relationship with it).  

Blessed are the poor.  The poor.  Take a moment to think about the poor.  Keep digging.  It’s likely that eventually, we’ll come to something uncomfortable in ourselves.  Maybe phrases like: “he can get a job” or “she’s milking the system” or maybe even the word “lazy”.  Even with our own kids, maybe even with ourselves perhaps.  We’ve all done it.  The challenge is to take a moment to sit with our own uncomfortableness.  When was the last time we saw someone begging on the streets?  What was our immediate response?  How do we react?  How would we like to react?  And if there’s a gap, why don’t we act in the way we’d like to?  How can we do better?   

Then we come to Poor in Spirit.  There’s a lot of different stories around this.  But what happens if we take it exactly as it seems to us?  Poor in spirit.  Dispirited.  Down trodden.  Again, digging within.  It’s really easy to look at someone else’s life and think: “Why are they so sad or dispirited, they have everything?”  “Why am I so sad or dispirited, I have everything?”  Wealth again.  

Comparison makes us uncomfortable.  Be ok with discomfort. That is what the Sermon on the Mount is teaching us. That is what Jesus is teaching us.  Look within.  See where we are lacking, so that we can become even better versions of ourselves, of Good People, and spread Goodness.  

Many interpretations consider poor in spirit not to be about a lack of courage or spirit, per se, but poor in will.  Weak in will.  Self will, to be exact.  Instead of using our high-spiritedness for the good of all, we use it for only our self.  That is poor in spirit and a long sermon…

The Sermon on the Mount challenges us to open our eyes.  Not just to see what’s happening around us, but what’s happening within.  Jesus says, the Kingdom of Heaven is within.  Perhaps we need to do some looking…within.  

And perhaps, it is also reminding us to love ourselves.  Now. Exactly as we are.  When we are poor, it’s harder to love ourselves. Perhaps we blame ourselves and feel bad about ourselves.  But Jesus asks us to love ourselves, even when we are poor.  

When we are poor in spirit. Jesus doesn’t ask us to snap out of of, get your good spirits back, and then love yourself.  Jesus says to love yourself even when we are poor in spirit.  

Hopeless. It’s hard to love when we are hopeless.  Hard to love others.  Hard to love God.  Really hard to love ourselves.  But Jesus asks us to love anyway: love others, love God, love ourselves.

Jesus doesn’t ask us to love when it’s easy.  He doesn’t ask us to love those who are in the same circle or place as us.  He asks us to love when it’s uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable.  That’s where the challenge is, the learning is, and the blessings are.  

To love all versions of ourselves, not just when we’re the person we want to present to the world, but even when we’re our messy, scattered, unhealthy, emotional, ugly selves.  Because Jesus knows that love heals.  

To love all versions of other, not just the good and comfortable people, but even when those with the messy, scattered, unhealthy, emotional, different, ugly selves.  Because Jesus knows that love heals.  

To love all versions of Grace, not just when our lives feel blessed, but even when it’s ugly, messy, sad, unhealthy, terrifying, and horrible.  Because Jesus knows that love heals.  

This passage takes away the hierarchy of worth.  Who’s worthy of love.  When are we worthy of love.  It takes away judgement.  We are all equally worthy of love.  

Love. Just Love.  Because happy are the hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.  

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