Over the next couple of weeks I will be writing some brief thoughts on Jesus’ beatitudes. One may say these posts will be a form of Lectio Divina. I’ve sensed in recent weeks that my brain feels tired and a bit weary. It is not that anything bad is happening (unless you consider writing a thesis to be a bad thing), but rather that I think I have exerted myself to the point that it would be good to slow down, meditate, and chew on the words of Christ.
I will follow the outline of the Gospel of Matthew. When the Gospel of Luke provides a beatitude that is similar to that as recorded in the First Gospel it will be read as well. At the end I intend on switching focus to the Lukan woe! sayings.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5.3)
Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Lk 6.20b)
Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοί, ὅτι ὑμετέρα ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ.
I think it was Dallas Willard who said that this beatitude is not a call to poverty. As I examine the Matthean rendering I think the same thing can be applied to whatever it means to be “poor in spirit (τῷ πνεύματι)”. To suggest this is the glorification of poverty seems (to me) to ignore the perils of being impoverished in both one’s person and financially speaking. It seems to glorify a state of being that those who experience true poverty wouldn’t recognize as worthy of such admiration.
Most people in the world today, and in the time of Jesus, have been under the impression that wealth and riches equates to blessing and the favor of God. In fact, we still hear this message preached from the pulpits of churches who claim to follow the very Christ who spoke this beatitude. There is a misconception regarding wealth and happiness that this beatitude challenges. It directly confronts the idea that those with the biggest smile on their face and the largest wad of cash in their pocket are those who are closest to God.
“Fortunate are you!” Μακάριοι (makarioi) is correctly rendered blessed, but a more stunning translation may be fortunate, lucky, or happy. The word “blessed” can be vague. To same someone is “fortunate” means that they are well placed.
When Jesus says “Blessed/fortunate are the poor (in spirit)” these are stunning words. Why are the poor fortunate? It is not because of poverty but it is because of Jesus. Jesus is the one who brings the kingdom of God. He is the one who proclaimed it and in turn embodied it. In a world where God is understood to be a friend of the rich we find Jesus representing God and saying, “Fortunate are the poor” because the poor had Jesus right there with them.
As Jesus embodied the kingdom of God he represented the work of God among his people. If Jesus has come to visit the down trodden then this tells that God can be found somewhere unexpected. He is not found on Wall Street when the Kingdom comes; he is found among the poor.
The First Gospel uses a Hebraism “kingdom of heaven (τῶν οὐρανῶν)” while the Third Gospel says “kingdom of God (τοῦ θεοῦ)”. These are interchangeable. God is the King in Heaven. As a king is the face and identity of a kingdom, so God relates to heaven. In the Lord’s prayer it is heaven where God’s will is already being done. The Jews often spoke of heaven as a respectful allusion to the God who reigns there.
The poor (in spirit) possess (αὐτῶν ἐστιν/ὑμετέρα ἐστὶν) the kingdom of God?! As Jesus stands before them as God’s Messiah he welcomes them to God through himself. Even as they sit in poverty here is God’s kingdom for them! Not only that, but when God sent Jesus to them it was God who sent the kingdom to the poor.
Fortunate are you. Jesus is here before you. Jesus brings the kingdom of God with him in his person. The myth of the day was wrong. God is not favoring the wealthy and the happy. This proves it. God has sent Jesus to you so you can share in the kingdom.
I’ve got a question about this part:
“If Jesus has come to visit the down trodden then this tells that God can be found somewhere unexpected. He is not found on Wall Street when the Kingdom comes; he is found among the poor.”
I’ve seen similar statements and I do understand your point, but there’s always a question that nags me about such statements. Isn’t Jesus *also* on Wall Street? It seems that Jesus was saying more that he was *also* with the poor, because they are the ones we would think he is not with, but he is not exclusively with the poor. What are your thoughts?
@Jordan: Yes, by the Spirit we know Jesus is made available to all people everywhere. So this creates a different scenario than when through his earthly ministry he was limited to the one location where he happened to be physically present. So in that sense there is a major difference (which is a sign of grace to the satisfied and the wealthy).
But we should take very seriously that when Christ was limited before his ascension that he chose to go to the poor. James 2.1-7 shows that the rich should have no preference in the church and 5.1-6 reiterates Jesus’ warnings to the rich. So the poor are still at an advantage in that they do not have the god Mammon in their path. As Jesus said, only God can save the rich. It would be easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle that for the rich to find God on their own.
One analogy of worth is how opposed Jesus was to the Pharisees, yet the Book of Acts speaks of Pharisees having converted and being part of the early church (though seemingly part of the problem regarding the circumcision debate). God obviously showed mercy on them, although they opposed Jesus during his earthly life. Yet what is important to note is that in doing so they were not first in the Kingdom and nor are the rich upon who God shows mercy.
An RC rejoinder on poor in spirit. In Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, a certain priest is described as a “mass-priest.” Such a description emphasizes the “role” of the man as apart from any of his own personal qualities. The priest may himself even be faceless, for it is the office he discharges not any inner qualities that we welcome. Today, this poverty in spirit has been replaced in certain priests and laity by a kind of diva status. And some of the divas have been shown to have very clay feet. The beatitude teaches us that the more we become poor in spirit, the more the power of grace will take over in us.
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