Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
The first beatitude is perhaps the most enigmatic of them all. How can the poor be called blessed? Is not poverty to be combated as unworthy of human dignity? And what is poverty of spirit?
Aren’t we all poor?
We do not need to be reminded of our poverty. There so many things we lack : money, good health, a job we are happy with, fulfilling relationships. When we compare ourselves with those who have even less, we may feel guilty, or even frustrated at what we see as an unfair comparison.
Then there are other even more precious things we know we lack: we would like to be more loving, more merciful and patient with ourselves and with others, pray better. We would like to live in peace with our past mistakes, wrong decisions, with the harm and pain we have inflicted on others. Yet, however hard we try, these things somehow remain beyond our reach, and we feel impatient at our shortcomings and our lack of progress. So we just try harder.
Poor in spirit
This beatitude tells us we can have a very different attitude towards our failings. Jesus invites us to accept that we are really poor in spirit, that we can never be perfect, neither materially much less spiritually. We can do that because we know we do not need to be perfect, for our trust lies in God.
Poverty is always painful, difficult to perceive as something good. Yet Jesus is calling blessed those who besides acknowledging they are poor, accept their poverty gracefully, and even gratefully.
It is a real blessing to acknowledge that our poverty does not make us less lovable in the eyes of God, and that it can even draw us nearer to him as we let go of our insecurities and accept that he is our saviour. The poor in spirit discover that the kingdom is theirs, as they open their hearts and lives to accept the free gift of the kingdom in faith.
Jesus on the Cross is the best image of poverty of spirit: bereft of everything, he could say, ‘It is completed. Into your hands I entrust my spirit‘.
May we during Lent pray for the grace to let go of our insecurities and grow in our capacity to embrace our limitations, trusting in God’s merciful love.
Blessed are the poor in spirit – A poem by Alice Walker (author of The Colour Purple)
Did you ever understand this?
If my spirit was poor, how could I enter heaven?
Was I depressed?
I see how a comma, removed or inserted
with careful plan,
can change everything.
I was reminded of this
when a poor young man
desperate to live
and humiliated for trying
set himself ablaze;
I felt uncomfortably warm
as if scalded by his shame.
I do not have to sell vegetables from a cart as he did
or live in narrow rooms too small for spacious thought;
and, at this late date,
I do not worry that someone will
remove every single opportunity
for me to thrive.
Still, I am connected to, inseparable from,
this young man.
Blessed are the poor, in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus. (Commas restored) .
Jesus was as usual talking about solidarity: about how we join with others
and, in spirit, feel the world, and suffering, the same as them.
This is the kingdom of owning the other as self, the self as other;
that transforms grief into
peace and delight.
I, and you, might enter the heaven
of right here
through this door.
In this spirit, knowing we are blessed,
we might remain poor.