Poor and Blessed?

Matthew 5: 3 - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

There are many things to note in this verse. Many wonderful things. Firstly, is the word “blessed”. This word will be used repeatedly in the next few verses to describe people that fall into various categories, so it is important that we spend time with this word and understand what exactly is meant by the word “blessed”. If you’re familiar with the bible you will know that the word “blessed” is used many times and in various ways. We bless the Lord, some people are called blessed (as in Matthew 5) and sometimes a blessing is given. It is generally accepted that the word "blessed" is a good thing. But even with that, I’m hesitant to move on without further clarifying what Jesus is trying to communicate about the people He's describing.

In the original Hebrew and Greek, there are several words that are used to describe what it means "to bless" or "be blessed". These words while slightly different, tend to denote a similar sentiment, such as to be in a state of prosperity or happiness, to speak well of someone or even to celebrate someone with praises. In Matthew 5: 3, the Greek word that was translated to “blessed” is “makarios”. This is the same word that is used to describe a person as “happy”. Looking also at the Hebrew word used in this text, when Jesus said "blessed" He was saying, “happy”, “praiseworthy” and “fortunate”. It is referring to someone that should be congratulated.

And this is where it gets interesting because in verse 3 Jesus goes on to describe the “poor in spirit” as blessed. Jesus is saying that the poor in spirit are happy and should be congratulated. I don't know about you, but if someone walked up to me and said the words “I'm poor in spirit” my instant and natural reaction wouldn't be to jump up in joy, throw my hands around them and congratulate them. At first glance, “poor in spirit” seems negative, but what does it actually mean?

Who are the poor in spirit?

As far as I can see, it is referring to people that look at their spirit without God and they consider it lacking. In fact, they consider it so lacking that they consider themselves to be in a state of spiritual poverty. Again, the question is why would I congratulate such a person? The rest of the verse does not seem to clarify this because it simply says the result of this spiritual poverty is the kingdom of heaven. On the face of it that makes no sense, but then I think back to my moment of salvation. The moment I started to see myself for who I was, someone who had fallen away from her Maker, someone who is nothing without God, someone who is spiritually poor. There was pain, sadness, regret and fear in that moment. However, the emotions didn't stop there. Here is the wonderful thing about that moment. When I stopped thinking I was the best of the best, that I was perfection personified, when I saw my spiritual poverty, I was able to begin to see God’s spiritual wealth.

When we talk about the salvation we tend to talk about the gospel and what Jesus did for us on the cross. However, we can only recognise the impact of what Jesus did when we recognise our need for it. When we recognise our spiritual poverty.

In Isaiah 61: 1 as the prophet begins to explain what the coming Messiah would do when He came to save His people, he says that the Messiah will preach “good tidings to the poor”. Jesus also says this of Himself in Luke 4: 18. If you continue to read Isaiah 61: 1 and Luke 4: 18, you will see that Jesus will heal the brokenhearted, he will set the captives free, release those who are bound from prison, comfort those who mourn and he will give the blind sight to see. In each case, Jesus is saying that He will address their problem and give them a solution in the form of the opposite situation, for example from captivity to freedom. So on that note, why is Jesus giving good tidings to the poor? Why is the need of the poor for them to hear the gospel? That doesn't put money in the bank. Shouldn’t He be giving them bags of money? Has he departed from the pattern by not giving them a solution in the form of the opposite situation? I don’t think so.

He was addressing the issue of their poverty with good news because He wasn’t talking about their financial state, He was referring to their spiritual state. It seems to make the most sense to me that Jesus was talking about solving spiritual poverty with good tidings. He was saying that to those who recognise the brokenness of their spiritual state, He would give them the good news about the saving grace of God. This also seems to make the most sense because Isaiah 61 prophesied about the work of Jesus and Jesus seldom talked about how to help the poor become rich. To be honest, I’m not sure how concerned Jesus was with solving financial poverty, seeing as He chose to live a life where He didn’t have a financial surplus. When He needed money for His taxes, instead of reaching into His non-existent savings, He sent a disciple to get money from the mouth of a fish (Matthew 17: 27). Jesus’ life was a depiction of what it means to trust God as a provider. It was Matthew 6: 33 in action.

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