In His discourse that we call the “beatitudes” or ways to be blessed by God, Jesus starts at a spot that we might not expect…unless we remember that the way to blessing in God’s kingdom is radically different, even opposite of our usual thinking.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3). I’d like to suggest that Jesus starts here because the way up is down in His kingdom. These attitudes or perspectives build on each other. Being poor in spirit would naturally lead to mourning which would lead to meekness and then a hunger for the right things, etc. So, to start at the end; this beatitude is really about humility. But more on that in a minute.
What does “poor” mean? Well…it’s not far from what we picture when we hear that word under every day conditions. It refers to someone without sufficient resources to provide for themselves. It describes someone who is dependent on others for sustenance. In fact, the picture is really of a person crouching in the corner…desperately dependent on another to meet their most basic needs.
The statement doesn’t suggest that if we are broke, we are more spiritual. It specifies that the desperate need here is one of our “spirit.” Perhaps we could call it an “inner poverty.” It’s talking about a recognition of our position or our dependency as a person. You may not think that is something to aim for but I want to remind you that the “man after God’s own heart,” King David said that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) It is only when I recognize my dependency on God that He reaches down to rescue me.
A great example of this attitude is found in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. While the Pharisee was happy with himself and all that he thought he had to offer to God, the tax collector simply said “God; be merciful to me, a sinner.” And it was Jesus who said that he went home right with God.
So, it is not just pretending to be humble. It is an honest, genuine understanding that you stand empty-handed before God. You give up your “kingdom;” you receive His.