It’s important to remind ourselves that Jesus was, is, and will remain the most intelligent human being and the most effective leader of people who will ever exist. He knows what we are made of and our vulnerabilities. Therefore, as we study his Sermon on the Mount, let’s assume he’s designed it to be grasped by the simplest soul as well as providing stimulation for the most gifted intellect.
Please notice three things about the Beatitudes (perfect happiness) which form the sermon’s introduction (Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:12-22):
First, a fair portion of the conditions/qualities Jesus describes in the Beatitudes are negative results of the “Fall” described in Genesis 3.
Second, all but the first and last of these Beatitudes promise future rather than immediate benefits of following Jesus.
Third, in using the term “Blessed are…” Jesus characterizes members of the Kingdom of Heaven (his followers) in terms of a core identity rather than describing goals to be achieved.
For today, let’s consider the first Beatitude:
“Blessed are the poor *in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 ESV
*Note: the shorter version of the Beatitudes found in Luke doesn’t include “in spirit”.
Some readers of this Beatitude have furthered two unlikely interpretations. One view insists that “poor” refers strictly to physical poverty and therefore true disciples must divest themselves of as many earthly possessions as possible. Another speculates that all poor, needy people are Jesus in disguise.
Popular teachers sometimes minimize this Beatitude, promoting the idea that Jesus’ main aim is to make his disciples materially prosperous. Others map out weighty plans to eliminate material poverty for all humanity.
I advocate that we understand this Beatitude in the context of many scriptures. Take a look at such things as Jesus’ interactions with the poor, how the early church handled the poor in their midst, and the value of spiritual riches in Jesus. In short, resist making this and the rest of the Beatitudes a tidy “to do” list.
Here are just a few among many passages to contemplate:
Jesus’ interactions with widows (often the poorest of the poor): Luke 4:24-26, Mark 12:41–44, Luke 7:11-17.
How the early church handled (satisfactorily or not) the poor in their midst: Acts 4:32-37, Acts 5:1-11, Acts 6:1, I Corinthians 11:17-22
The value of our riches in Christ: Ephesians 1:3-14. (Every blessing bestowed, implemented and guaranteed.)
Again, end with The Lord’s Prayer:
…“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Matthew 6:9-15 ESV