Poor in Spirit

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

“To be blessed,” Jesus says, “is to be poor.”

Jesus does not bless the poor in cash or wealth, though that often goes together with what he means. He blesses the poor in spirit. You won’t catch them bragging about their prayer life, how many people they have converted, how much they have given up to serve God, or how much they have grown and matured in their walk of faith. Whether they can quote Isaiah 64:6, or even know the passage exists, they agree with the prophet: “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Not much of value there.

Imagine a homeless, jobless person millions of dollars in debt. If he dumpster-dived for aluminum cans and had 10 lifetimes to do it, maybe he could scrape enough together to change his situation. But he doesn’t even collect recyclables. All he has gathered together are scraps of cloth, and grimy, smelly ones at that–soiled by ripe, wet garbage, further spoiled by dust and dirt. Would he present those to his creditors at the bank, or send them in to satisfy the Visa bill? Would he show off his pile of rotting rags to impress you with his wealth? Would you?

Now, convert his soiled and spoiled collection to a life of thoughts, attitudes, and activities soiled and spoiled by selfish motivations, false pride, deceitful cover-ups, and self-indulgent lusts, and you have a picture of the poor in spirit Jesus calls blessed here.

How can Jesus call such people blessed? It’s not because their hearts and lives are such a mess. In that they are just like everybody else. No, it is because they are in touch with reality. They don’t mistake their filthy rags for gold bullion. They have come to grips with their true situation and stopped pretending it is better than it is. Once they admit their spiritual poverty, they stop trying to impress God with their garbage. They come to him with their hands empty. Before God, they know that they are only there to receive.

And God does not disappoint. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” With Jesus they go from penniless beggars to shareholders in Paradise. They own their own piece of heaven, literally. God does not hold their spiritual poverty against them and wait for them to pay. He forgives it, and he pays for it with the blood of Jesus, and he replaces it with his own eternal home of endless pleasures. All of a sudden it is as if these spiritually bankrupt street people have won the billion-dollar Power-ball!

This is what it looks like to be blessed. Such people lack any great spiritual valuables of their own, but God has given them the deed to heavenly real estate. Maybe it’s just a promise now, God’s word on the matter. But he never, ever reneges on a promise, and possession is as certain for the poor in spirit on earth as it is for the saints in glory in heaven.

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