The first blessing Jesus gives in the Beatitudes makes no sense at all.
Poverty is not a “happy” state (makarios, the Greek word for “blessed,” is also translated “happy”). To be poor is devastating, not blessed. It is not a virtue to be poor in spirit: to be poor in spirit means we have no inner resources, no inner life, absolutely nothing to give.
To be poor in spirit is to be depressed and oppressed; to be so inwardly destitute we can hardly get ourselves out of bed in the morning. The addict, dependent on outside substances to feel any glimmer of well-being, is spiritually poor. The suicidal is spiritually poor. The debilitatingly depressed is spiritually poor.
What Jesus says is nonsense . . . until we realize what he is really saying. This is not a blessing on one’s current state but an offer to change it.
If you are spiritually impoverished, inwardly devastated, a graveyard of dreams–
To you Jesus speaks blessing.
To you, he speaks life.
In fact, to you he gives a gift:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
All We Need Is Nothing
Jesus’s words are so radical, so outlandishly (outworldishly?) generous that we can’t wrap our minds around them. What does it mean to be GIVEN a kingdom, after all? We know what that means; we’ve all read stories of people given kingdoms. David was given a kingdom. Arthur was given a kingdom. Aragorn was given a kingdom. To be given a kingdom is to be given position, authority, power, privilege, wealth, honor, responsibility.
YOU have been given a kingdom, provided you meet one qualification:
All you need in order to receive from God is nothing.
All you need in order to qualify for greater riches than you can imagine is deep personal poverty.
Thankfully, we all qualify.
The Graveyard of Dreams
Years ago during a time of personal struggle, I found myself coming to a point where I recognized how deeply impoverished I really was.
I’d been through a spiritual battle, and inwardly, it had left destruction and devastation in its wake. As someone who always wants to have something to offer, it was hard for me to realize just how poor I had become: I did not have anything to give God, or others, or even myself.
But God met me there. Sitting in the wreckage of my soul I became aware of his presence and his acceptance. I wrote a poem about the experience that included this line:
So we join hands and dance
In the graveyard of dreams.
The truth is that all of humanity is a graveyard of dreams. Created for glory, we lost that glory through sin. We “fell short,” as Paul so perfectly puts it (Romans 3:23).
Some of us, in some seasons, are acutely aware of this. Others are not. To those who feel the depth of their own depravity and need, and to those who don’t feel it but are willing to acknowledge it regardless, Jesus offers to give glory back. He offers to seat us on high with himself. He offers to anoint us as kings and priests.
He raiseth up the poor out of the dust
And lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill,
To set them among princes,
And to make them inherit the throne of glory.
(1 Samuel 2:8, KJV)
When Mary rejoiced over the child in her womb, she sang an echo of Hannah’s prayer.
A Spiritual Kingdom
When Jesus offers the kingdom as the antidote for spiritual poverty, he points to the nature of this kingdom as a spiritual one. That doesn’t mean it has no effect or manifestation in the material world–all material begins in and is upheld by the realm of spirit. But the wealth and power of the kingdom answers directly to our spiritual poverty and weakness, going directly to our deepest need and offering to meet it.
The destitute will be rich. The blind will see. The mostly dead and entirely hopeless will find a well of life spring up within them, leading to eternal life.
And since this is a kingdom given as a gift to those who have absolutely no way to earn or pay for it, all we need to do to receive this kingdom is to acknowledge our need and humbly, gratefully receive it by faith.
(This is Part 22 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.)