Beatitudes: Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5: 3). There is so much in this short verse. ‘Poor in spirit’ is an important designation here. It has been rendered as “at the end of your rope” in one translation. There is a sense in which the phrase could mean something like “blessed are those who realise their own need and their inability to fix themselves up. They are the ones who let God reign in their lives.”
This is where the great reversal begins. The person who imagines they are going well and doing good can become self-satisfied and complacent. The story of the woman who washes the feet of Jesus is illustrative here (Lk 7: 36-50). Despite her lowly standing, she nonetheless steps into the room full of religious heavies but can push past all their disapproval. Then she acts in a most impolitic way, washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair, and anointing them with expensive perfume. No one could have missed the spectacle of it all. The host of the event thought to himself that if Jesus really was a prophet then he would know the dubious nature of this woman and that he was being brought into disrepute by her. But Jesus countered him, saying that this woman had demonstrated much gratitude and love knowing that she had been forgiven much. On the other hand, “he who is forgiven little loves little.” (Lk 7: 47). She had come to the end of her rope, no more life lines, and no more second chances. The Pharisee on the other hand was not able to see his own need and was therefore merely civil to Jesus. And this is the twist: that fact is everybody is forgiven much, but not everybody sees it.
To see your own poverty of spirit is a gift that gives you eyes to see. But the trick is that seeing only happens when we realise we are blind. For, as Jesus explained elsewhere in reference to those who believed they could see: “These are people– Whose eyes are open but don’t see a thing, whose ears are open but don’t understand a word, who avoid making an about-face and getting forgiven.” (Mk 4: 12 MSG). The big problem with being deceived is that you do not that you are. This is a thread that runs throughout the entire saga of the scriptures.
Blessed are the poor in spirit – the truth is we are all poor in spirit – thus we can say: blessed are those that know they are poor in spirit. Every now and then an opportunity arises for us to see our own soul for what it is as the search light of God’s grace burns the sleep out of our eyes. It is vital that we turn and face into the light and let it show us what is really there and let ourselves be roused from the slumber of civil religious self-satisfaction. Remember Paul was a Pharisee and as blind as a post, but the grace of God reached to him and woke him. Fortunately, Paul let down his defences and was later able to write: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe.” (1 Tim 1: 15-16).
We all on the same boat.