The blessing of spiritual poverty

Adam's skull on Calvary. spiritual poverty

Adam’s skull on Calvary / Fra Angelico, ca. 1435

Jesus had a way of saying offensive things. At least if you stop to think about them.

In Matthew’s gospel, the first words out of Jesus’ mouth as a preacher called people to repent (Matthew 4:17). Next, he began the Beatitudes by proclaiming blessings for spiritual poverty (Matthew 5:3).

What does “poor in spirit” mean? The Greek for “poor” is ptochos,  which means destitute of wealth, influence, position, or honor. Reduced to beggary. Now, he wasn’t making a virtue of being broke. He didn’t invite scorn for the rich. After all, he specified poor in spirit.

Spirit refers to the immaterial part of being human. The part that thinks, feels, and decides. The part that wants to be in control.

Think of it!

Jesus said the kingdom of God belongs to those whose spirit is reduced to beggary. Which means those who give up any thought of being in control of anything. And doesn’t everyone want to be in control of their own life?

He made other offensive comments along the same line. The kingdom of God belongs to people like little children (Matthew 19:14). Among other things, that means dependent, without resources, defenseless.

More than that, he says that apart from him we can do nothing (John 15:5).

What? I can do plenty!

But when I get really honest with myself, I realize that none of what I can do apart from Jesus profits the kingdom of God. At best, I can only waste my effort. At worst, I can get in the way of kingdom business.

Do you want the kingdom of God? I do. We have to give up control and become poor in spirit in order for it to be ours.

How to obtain the blessing for spiritual poverty

Christ enthroned mosaic. spiritual poverty

Mosaic of Christ enthroned surrounded by angels in Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, c.500

Actually, everyone is impoverished spiritually. Jesus pronounced his blessing on people who acknowledge it.

The first step toward salvation is acknowledging that we are sinners. We fall short of what we ought to be.

In the next step, we must acknowledge that we can’t do anything about it. We have no power to stop sinning. We might, through sheer will power, stop some kinds of sin. But the closer we get to Jesus, the more sin we see in ourselves. It’s a never-ending cycle.

People who simply try harder and harder to be good enough may go to church regularly and do all kinds of good works. They may be heaven-bound. They live commendable lives in many ways. But they aren’t poor in spirit. They miss out on the blessing of being poor in spirit.

It gets more serious. What does Jesus think of people who think they’re good enough?

The letter to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22) tells us that they make Jesus vomit! He can’t bestow on them the spiritual blessing for the poor in spirit. Instead, Jesus pronounces harsh judgment on those who think they’re spiritually rich. He speaks it to church people, not the world. They’re saved, but condemned to forfeit the blessing he would rather give. The Laodiceans look too much like the modern church for comfort.

Jesus won’t give us a break. He expects better things of us.First, we have to recognize that in his sight, we are “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” He offends, rebukes, and disciplines those he loves. He provides all we need, and unimaginable blessings besides, once we acknowledge our spiritual poverty.


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